Denver Jenkins Wathen Jr. left this world September 15, 2011 at 3:55pm the same way he came into it March 22, 1931, surrounded by family.
It was not the ending any of us would have predicted, but one I think none of us would ever trade.
I have learned more about my father in the last few weeks than he ever cared to tell me in all my 48 yrs. I’ve looked thru his records, a disintegrating birth certificate, diplomas, military discharge papers, divorce decrees and every picture I could find. I peeled back the layers of wrapping paper and found a person in the center of the box.
He was not perfect, just human. Subject to all the hazards and consequences we all must face through life. I was able to see the things that jaded him and the circumstances that made him shy away from being the husband and father we wished he could have been.
None of us will ever know the real Denver, what he thought or what he felt. But I think I got as close as I was ever meant to these final days.
God wanted me to SEE him as a fellow human being. Just a person who filled his bag with life experiences and at the end had to stand at the dock and empty that bag piece by piece, re-examining each experience till the only thing left in the bottom of the bag was the coin for the Ferryman.
Today he set his burdens down and tonight he is traveling light once again.
I love each and every one of you
Copyright 2011 Juliana Wathen
No call went out, yet we all gathered tonight to sit vigil with my mother at the bed side of my father as he slips further away.
I didn’t think I could go to the back of the house and into the spare room where he lay curled up on a hospital bed. I told myself I was here for my mother. She shuffled back and forth from the front room to the back. One time carrying his next morphine dose another time a cool rag to sooth the fever that racks his body as it tries to shut down.
My youngest brother came and I pointed to the back and said, “You can go back, it’s okay. Wanda is with him.” he choked back an answer and just shock his head no. He couldn’t do it and I understood.
My older brother kept milling about back and forth, sitting in one chair and then another. Room to room we all seemed to pivot avoiding the obvious as best we could and making small talk about this and that.
My sister -in-law look at me as if to ask if I had taken my turn yet….I shook my head no. But again said ,”feel free to go back, Wanda is there.” I then realized my mother was in the room and that Denver was alone. I took Olga’s hand and she gripped it tightly. Silently we walked down the narrow hall to the spare bedroom together. His breath labored and infrequent, he seems so slight and fragile. Not at all the giant and imposing figure he has been all my life. There was a softness I had never seen before. And I knew then that I could do this. Not that I should, but that I COULD.
The hours pass by and we convinced Wanda to go lie down. She is afraid to relax too much or even sleep but she knows she must. The men we sent to rest at their own homes. We sit up, we women. Cleaning and shuffling about and listening. Waiting.
“DENVER WATHEN’S ham-sized hands cradled his reel with the sensitivity of a surgeon feeling a pulse. Then he quickly lowered the rod tip, cranked up slack line, and reared back hard enough to cross the eyes of an alligator.” Bob Brister – Houston Chronicle 1986
We were told yesterday that my father, Denver, has Bladder Cancer and all the doctors can offer at this point is to keep him comfortable. So we took him back home. I took notice of how poorly he looked, hap-hazardly shaven and thin silver hair the length of General Custard’s at the last stand.It curled up and over his collar. We are past the point of taking “Mohammed to the mountain” to get a hair cut. He is not well enough to make the trip. So, I did what I thought I should do for the man I rarely touch. I offered to cut his hair. I have worried these last few years how I would be able to step up and do the right thing for him in his end days. And now that day is here. Come to find out, a horribly dull set of house scissors and a old black comb were all I needed to comfort him. He had to rest half way thru, sitting up was a chore. But in the end he managed and I managed. We muddled through together each realizing this was uncharted territory. Before I left, he thanked me ….for cutting his hair…and for staying a while.
He was always most comfortable on a lake fishing I guess. Mexico, Yucatan, or Cuba. The staff writer who traveled down to Mexico to fish with him in 1986 sure seemed to capture that in the quote above.
How do you keep THIS man comfortable?. A step at a time. A day at a time. I’m sure it will come to me when I need it most. Just like yesterday.
I love each and every one of you
Straw and mud hut in Africa
Hippos on the lake in Africa
Denver's cabana in Cuba