Mal Penwasser died two years ago today.
Finally succumbing to a lifetime of bad habits, he lived to 76, which isn’t all that bad. If nothing else, he surpassed the average life expectancy of a man in the Middle Ages.
It may have been diabetes, a heart condition, or the combined effects of “morbid obesity” (as I later learned was the official cause of death) which did him in.
I really don’t know.
You see, my brothers, sister, and I hadn’t spoken to him since 1995. Although I remember the general cause of our estrangement, the specific details had disappeared over the last fifteen years. What made it even sadder is that, in the intervening years, my father had three more grandchildren whom he would never meet.
As I watched the calendar turn over and assorted parts of my body stretch to the floor, I knew the clock was ticking on Mal just like the rest of us. I wondered how I’d react when I learned he had finally passed. Even though my siblings and I joked that the only way we would find out would be via the Social Security Death Index, I was still curious.
Would I be sad?
I got my answer on November 17th, 2010 when the funeral director in the town in which he lived called. As she told me that I was now an orphan (Mom had gone at the criminally young age of 44 in 1983), I just answered, “Huh.”
As in, “Huh, well, whaddya know?”
Hanging up the phone, I wasn’t overwhelmed (or even “whelmed”) with grief. Instead, I kept going back to “Huh.”
In phone calls with my family, we all pretty much had the same reaction. Neither poignant reflections nor melancholy.
The more I thought about it, though, I started to grow a little morose. I’m sad that wrongs (or perceived wrongs) can never be righted. A father and grandfather will never be a part of a family who rejoices in each other, warts and all.
All because of pigheaded stubbornness.
Instead, a sad, bitter man was cremated alone, his ashes then spread over Long Island Sound.
As I consider our family tragedy, I made a vow to myself.
When I pass on to whatever awaits me (I just hope God isn’t French. If so, I'll have a real problem), I swear I'll do whatever I can to ensure my son and daughter are by my side.
And they’ll never have a reason to say, “Huh.”