by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
August 1-, 2004
AN UNCONVENTIONAL WEEK
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- My convention may have been different from yours.
As the Democratic convention began on CNN, I. Harold Filler, who was born in 1916, began to die.
The I is for Isaiah.
On the television screen, red, white and blue banners unfurl, Kerry and Edwards signs bloom, and delegates put on silly hats.
But Harold, draped in a blanket, lies in a chair in his hospital room in south Florida. His head is back, his mouth is open, his eyes are closed.
Jimmy Carter speaks from his heart. I cannot speak. Harold's daughter, Beth, cannot speak. And Harold's wife, my mother, cannot speak. We are waiting for an ambulance service. It will take Harold to hospice.
"Today, our dominant international challenge is to restore the greatness of America- based on telling the truth, a commitment to peace, and respect for civil liberties at home and basic human rights around the world," Carter says. "Truth is the foundation of our global leadership, but our credibility has been shattered and we are left increasingly isolated and vulnerable in a hostile world."
I had flown in from Vermont that morning. Beth came from New York. Both of us were responding to calls from my mother: "Please, come quickly, Harold is dying. I can't do this alone."
Across the hall, a patient presses the nurse's call button and an buzzer begins to ring. It keeps time with Al Gore's speech. The buzzer goes on and on, and so does Gore. He gave up the presidency in 2000. He didn't fight for it. He caved. He has nothing to say to us today.
Harold is a great guy. He was big - 200 pounds at his late-life prime, on the day he married my mother. He was tall and handsome then, with a full head of silvery white hair. He was frequently demanding - to the point of being a bit abusive - but he was also sometimes sweet and humble. He had a wicked sense of humor. He was thoughtful. He was always doing favors for people. He loved to serve.
He often told me that he was blessed because he had had the love of two wonderful women - his first wife, Lorraine, who died around the same time as my father, and now my mother. He sometimes had tears in his eyes when he told me this.
Now he weighs 130 pounds. He is all bone. Hard bone. Heavy bone.
Progressive terminal Parkinson's has him in its sharp alien teeth and it is eating him alive. He is dying.
I kiss him and wonder, not for the first time, if death is catching.
The buzzer is still beeping as Hillary Clinton starts to speak. Her face is shining with feigned innocence, her blond hair is crisply cut, and her manner is polished. She speaks of her great admiration for John Kerry, and how she wants nothing more than to be led by him. She is lying with enthusiasm. The delegates are delirious. She is their star, the first woman president of their dreams. And hers.
My mother listens to the speech. One of her bony hands worries the corner of her jacket; the other holds Harold's bony hand.
Hillary introduces her husband and the convention floor goes mad with joy. They wave their banners so hard they create drafts that make the buntings on the walls wave back. The EMTs come and strap Harold to a gurney.
Beth and I are to follow in her car. Bill Clinton begins speaking on the car radio as Harold is lifted into the ambulance.
I look at Harold, whom I love. For just one second, strapped to the gurney, he is upright. His eyes are dark and open, looking out at the world. This is his final journey, I think. It is a solemn moment. I turn off the radio.
The furniture in the hospice saves Harold's death. It is hand-me-down 1970s wood, country tacky, ruffled curtains. Beth moans, "I signed my father's life away." My mother falls to the floor crying, "I can't do it. I can't leave him here."
We get her into a chair and I drape a thin hospital blanket over her trembling shoulders, like a cape. She makes an unlikely superhero.
Beth, so competent, learns that if Harold can come home to die, hospice will follow us. Mother wants him home. She know just how to set up the dining room as a hospital. She did it for my father.
Harold is awake now. He wants to know where he is, and why. He wants to know who is paying for all this. He wants to know why my mother is crying. My mother can't find the words to tell him.
The next day we prepare the dining room. Carmen-from-Jamaica, a strong, wise, take-charge, round-faced woman who was Harold's day aide, agrees to move in with us.
From hospice, a hospital bed, a commode and a wheel chair appear, followed by an "egg crate" mattress, and then an air mattress. The first mattress is picked up and taken away. A hospital table called an "overbed" is delivered. Our vocabulary is increasing: Thicket, Nebulizer, chux, Atavan. Oxygen arrives, then medication. Then Harold.
We watch the convention at home. Barak Obama speaks, another man speaking from his heart. The crowd loves him. They wave his name in the air. Harold is sitting in a wheelchair, eating from the overbed table. My mother sits across from him, spooning food tenderly into his mouth. "All you need is a bud vase and some candles," I say.
Carmen takes the spoon away. "Don't you take my job away from me, Miss Rose," she says. "Let me feed him. You eat your own dinner."
Mother picks at her chicken and John Edwards talks about hope. We have none.
We fall into a routine. Carmen does the heavy lifting. Beth washes a lot of dishes very fast. I try to support my mother and feel useless.
Al Sharpton speaks, warning us that the next administration might have the opportunity to fill two seats on the U.S. Supreme Court. "It is frightening to think that the gains of civil and women rights and those movements in the last century could be reversed if this administration is in the White House in these next four years," he says. "I suggest to you tonight that if George Bush had selected the court in '54, Clarence Thomas would have never got to law school. This is not about a party. This is about living up to the promise of America." I start to like Reverent Al very much.
John Kerry reports for duty to America. Harold's not drinking enough liquid and his kidneys begin to shut down. Beth and I cancel our flights home.
On the television, we see the Fleet Center after the convention. The floor is littered with balloons and posters.
And Harold is still at home, all bone, hard bone, slowly dying.
Joyce Marcel is a free-lance journalist who writes about culture, politics, economics and travel.