The Complete and Total Loser’s parents are dying. He doesn’t say that, no one does, but it’s true. His mother has been in declining health for what, a decade now? At least. And she’s gotten substantially worse in the past year, going from frail to feeble. Always the type to require center stage, she lets all around her know this. No stoicism for her! She grunts as if in pain with each step, every movement. Minor procedures are detailed at length and someone must attend if she’s at a hospital even for an outpatient appointment.
The Loser gets peevish with this sometimes but overall is fine with it and does his duty. She is getting ready to commit the ultimate verb. If she needs to be attended by one of her sons, the Loser will comply. When he enters the house he drinks a beer as soon as he can. Then, often, another. He wants to take the edge off and there’s little but edge these days.
More disturbing to the Loser these days is his father, who is in better health than his mother but, a decade older than she is ninety now and hardly robust. A suburbanite since 1950, driving more than a few miles tires him now. Recently he has showed strong signs of clinical depression and his appetite has waned. He barely eats. He, a man whose greatest sin has been gluttony, who has disgusted his son for years by moaning with pleasure (“Umm ... Umm.”) when eating salty, greasy food with his fingers.
He, a man always preternaturally cheerful and optimistic, famous for being easygoing and likable, affable even, he himself calls it depression. The Loser sees the mild thrill his father gets from his lack of appetite, such a difference from the norm. His father doesn’t show his enjoyment openly, of course, and attributes it rightly to his worry over his ailing wife.
In an early, half awake morning hour today, maybe it was yesterday, another reason occurred to the Loser. His parents are playing an end game. Not a game in the sense of a competition. More of a matching game, like kids trying to see how many times they can throw a Frisbee back and forth without letting it hit the ground. The Loser’s father senses his wife’s coming death and is trying to go at the same time. Suicide by failure to thrive. The notion scares the Loser, but seems apt. (How many times has he had the romantic notion of them dying together, tragically, in a plane crash, asleep, on the way home after a delightful vacation?) It’s a selfish idea, the Loser knows. The abrupt end, no lingering death for either, no obligation to figure out the proper etiquette as they decline, no craziness from them. Just sympathy from others. Casseroles from neighbors while he lived in the house for a few months, settling things.
The Loser wants his father to be happy and is surprised how upset he is by his current state. He’d always thought that an overall happy existence would cancel out any brief time of misery at the end as much as it would had it been in midlife or another time. Now, he’s not so sure of this. His mother has always been like the Loser; a bit of a downer, never fully secure and joyous, with happiness a temporary, aberrational state. His father, though, that sweet, smart, kind man, he wants his father to die happy.