Cover image for Fathers aren't supposed to die : five brothers reunite to say good-bye
Fathers aren't supposed to die : five brothers reunite to say good-bye
Shine, T. M.
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Publication Information:
New York : Simon & Schuster, [2000]

Physical Description:
220 pages ; 20 cm
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HQ1073 .S53 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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It begins with a phone call from the older brother he hasn't seen in years, informing Terry Shine that their father lies in a hospital bed unable to speak...bleeding in the brain. From that moment, Terry's life is irrevocably transformed. Reuniting to prepare for the end, he and his four brothers are plunged into a bewildering world of medical choices and hours of sitting helplessly by their father's bedside, encouraging him to blink, to squeeze a hand, to nod. Old people are supposed to die, Terry acknowledges in a whisper of resignation. Yeah, but fathers aren't, one of his brothers responds. As the Shine family discovers, there is nothing that prepares us to navigate this ravaging emotional terrain, and nothing we can do to come out of the experience unscathed. This warm and heartrending narration captures the emotional whirlwind, sinning from the sacred to the mundane, as five brothers come to terms with a parent's death.

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

A feature writer for the Florida weekly newspaper City Link, Shine has written a brave, painfully honest account of his father's death at 78 from a subdural brain hematoma, which precipitated the reunion of the author and his four brothers, who had drifted apart. Virtually camping out in the hospital intensive care unit, taking turns at keeping vigil, the brothers question God, debate living wills, relive boyhood memories, curse out the uncommunicative, at times amazingly callous, doctors and debate whether or not to pull the plug on their father's life-support as he lies speechless and motionless after surgery. Each son sees a different father: to some he's a no-nonsense tough guy, while to others he is still Daddy, who cannot possibly leave them. Shine fends off the Grim Reaper blues with deadpan humor that makes for lively, grabbing reading. Beneath his stance of almost flip detachment, however, runs an undercurrent of love tinged with regret and sorrow, as he fitfully tries to reconnect with his mute father, with brothers grown distant and with his mother, "a precious but ornery old lady" wrapped in depression and stoic reserve. Halfway through the book, Shine--and the reader--receive a tremendous shock, making for a double-barreled tragedy that reduces the author to a primal scream. His father, a WWII veteran, gets a ceremonial burial in Arlington National Cemetery, but there is no closure: grieving takes a lifetime, and fractured families don't magically cohere. This open-ended, raw quality lends Shine's agnostic memoir its power and healing grace. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One "One can no more look steadily at death than at the sun." -- La Rochefoucauld Too many dogs loose this morning. These early runs have become so regimented -- the nod to the crossing guard by the elementary school, going wide by the corner of Ocean Avenue to avoid the sprinklers, breathing deep before the steep incline on Drew Street -- that I usually welcome the chase, the bark, the growl, the shouts of the owner. But not today. Every time I have to lift my head, skid off course, drop my speed, it distracts me from the beeper in my hand. When I bought this thing I didn't get one of those belt clips and these silly running shorts have no pockets, so I thought about leaving it at home, thought about how twenty minutes or a half hour wouldn't make a difference. But I want it to make a difference, damn it. And besides, it's doctor's orders. "Someone in the family needs to have a pager and keep it in their possession at all times," the doctor had said. "There will be urgent questions that have to be answered, things you need to know right away." But all the questions have been answered now, and there is only one thing left to know. Only one beep remains, and last night I was playing around with the gadget's options. Do I want diddly-deet, an air-drill shrill, a simple blip...blip... for this final page? What should be the signal for death? I chose the silent vibrator mode. If it goes off in the next second, a shiver will spread from my palm, trail up the nerves of my arm, and then jolt down my spine until my whole body is numb. My father will be dead. And I am ready. I am on the brink of acceptance. Old people are supposed to die, I said in a whisper of resignation two nights ago. "Yeah, but fathers aren't," my brother Bill responded. And I know what he is saying. He's trying to separate our impending loss from the ugliness of death itself. We have talked so much about death lately. From camping out in the ICU to calling doctors killers to debating living wills to questioning God to picking out a shiny box to lower someone into the grimy ground, we have become entrenched in it. At one point, it prompted me to say aloud, "My death." This is all new to me. I know there are others like myself who have led semi-charmed lives and often find themselves saying, "No one close to me has ever died." Even the aunt you treasured when you were nine waits to die until you're thirty-one and haven't seen her in eleven years. It's a death cushion. The tragedy, the devastation, the dropping to your knees in anguish never comes. You are spared. This story is about not being spared. It's about when the tragedy, the devastation, the dropping to your knees in anguish comes. It's about reaching the brink of acceptance and then being slammed by death in ways you couldn't possibly have fathomed. I keep going back to that moment with the beeper cradled in my palm as if it were the present because I haven't accepted much since. I sometimes run it all backward, subtracting each thing that happened by the week, by the day, by the hour...but I can never seem to erase the first phone call. The one that comes with a ring of camouflage -- could be the dry cleaners, could be the finance department trying to verify something on your expense report, could be the security guard downstairs notifying you that your lunch order has arrived. Or it could be the trapdoor that drops you into your first hard lesson in death, American style. Copyright © 2000 T.M. Shine. All rights reserved.