Twenty years ago today, ten-year-old Alex Lupica got off the school bus and walked the block between his stop and home. He entered to find his entire family in his living room. This was a rare development, and Alex was excited to see relations that lived a whole hour from home gathered together. An hour is an eternity here in Rhode Island, so it was a special occasion for sure. He went upstairs to shed his school things; his mother followed, and shortly, another hour became an eternity as the occasion was explained.
My father had been admitted to the hospital a week before. My last memory of him was joking as my gym teacher, also a volunteer firefighter, helped take him away on a stretcher. Much like the scenario in the living room, I was more excited to see him in the morning than worried that he was taken away in that manner. He would already be at work before I woke on the average day, and returned not long before bedtime, so I was happy to see more of him. His jovial outward appearance and the presence of a familiar face playing the role of the emergency worker helped me focus on this unexpected bonus to my morning. I didn’t know until later that he had suffered a massive heart attack before he even reached the hospital.
It’s hard to remember exactly what I thought leading up to that afternoon. I vaguely recall concern, but never heavy concern. I know I took to sleeping in the sewing room, next door to my sister, so the family would be closer together, but don’t recall if this was for my security or my mother’s. I was at least aloof enough that I never guessed the reason for the full house downstairs until my mother dropped the bombshell. Twenty years ago today, my father passed away at the age of 41. Suddenly every memory I’d had between that last moment of seeing him and that first moment of coming to terms with never being able to again was obliterated.
Twenty years later, I am still the strong one when it comes to my father’s death. I don’t know if that’s inherently a good thing. I’m not sure it’s healthy to be so cool over it for so long. The reality was a sudden-ness followed by an odd life-goes-on feeling. Because it does. That doesn’t change the fact that how it goes on is different for everyone, though. My mother and sister still put on the waterworks when we visit his grave, and sometimes even when just talking about him. I recall listening to a Hot Tuna record over a decade after his passing, and my mother needed it turned off because the memories were too strong. We all mourn differently, and mourn differently for different people, but sometimes the way we approach it poses its own set of questions. The thing that bothers me most about my father’s death is that it seems to not bother me the right way. It’s as if that day of immediate loss, and the passing week of constant reminders, wrung every tear out of me. It’s not that I don’t miss my father, or didn’t love him… I just can’t feel the “right” way. Perhaps culturally, as the only male in the family at that point, I took the stoic role. Perhaps someday I will find myself in shambles, crying decades of uncried tears. Right now, it’s just something that happened, and something I attempt to keep in check.
“The Last Song” comes far from Elton John’s prime, not long before singing about lion monarchies and preceded on the album by a song ridiculously called “Understanding Women,” yet the sheer sorrow in the song is palpable. This song is where mortality, my father’s and my own, gets under my skin. It’s a little strange, since the song seems to be more about a young man, in the last gasps of his life, seeing his father enter his hospital room, as opposed to the son losing his own father. There’s a feeling of estrangement between the two, and given Elton’s sexuality, one wonders if this wasn’t even more poignant, the story of a man shedding his pride and visiting his gay son at the end of his life, proving that his paternal love is more powerful than his homophobic fears. Nevertheless, I’ve always appropriated it for myself, given the powerful images, the longing for the love of a parent, the crushing realities of death, and that connection of father and son losing one or the other. I think there’s a lot in the song that could take this inverse reading reasonably, but either way, the general mood highlights that fragile, weird relationship between family members, and the way death effects us.
Whether it is knowing I’ve felt the loss, or that when it’s me, I won’t have that surprise visit, or maybe just because the song is scientifically proven to be devastating, I am not sure, but I would argue that “The Last Song” is among the saddest songs ever written. It’s basically three and a half minutes of me shivering.
Some things, when they happen, erase all other paths. We’re left unable to ever find out what-ifs, and when the story ends abruptly, sometimes all we can do is close the book so we don’t have to dwell on them. Sir Elton may wrap up the story here… that love of family finally comes through… but it doesn’t stop the inevitable. The ache doesn’t dissipate, because we know that, even with that “happy” ending, it changes nothing. The death still occurs, the wound never really gets to heal. Twenty years on, no matter how much searching there has been, there’s only one end. You never forget that reality, no matter how much you sometimes wish you could.
Comments are closed.