When I was ten years old, something in the backyard knocked on the window to my bedroom.
It was around midnight, and it startled me awake. I scrambled out of bed, ran down the hall into my parent’s bedroom, and shook my father’s shoulders.
Dad! Something’s outside my bedroom! It knocked on the window!
My father, groggy-eyed, squinted at me and said, “Oh Johnny, it’s probably just a dream.” He crawled out of bed and walked me back down the hall to my bedroom.
Fear tastes like a rusty knife and do not let her into your house. — John Cheever
Dad opened my bed covers and told me to go back to sleep. He leaned over to tuck me in.
And that’s when the second knock on my bedroom window happened.
I live in that atmosphere
We lived in the hills of Los Gatos, California, surrounded mostly by oak trees and woods. Deer, raccoons, and assorted wildlife were common visitors on our property.
But they didn’t knock on windows.
Dad reacted quickly, fetching his flashlight and World War II Colt M1911 semi-automatic pistol. I remember my mother was awake from all the commotion.
“What’s going on, John?” she asked my father.
“Stay inside, I think someone is in the backyard,” he said.
Looking back, Dad should have called the police and stayed inside, but he was a former United States Marine with a strong personality. His instinct was to immediately confront the situation.
Dad went quickly out through the side door of our garage, where he would be able to surprise anyone in the back yard.
My mother and I peered through the bedroom window, following the light stream of Dad’s flashlight. After a few minutes, Dad came back into the house.
“There was nothing,” Dad told us, adding, “I walked around the entire house. Not even shoe prints in the dirt beneath your window.”
Life is full of awe and grace and truth, mystery and wonder. I live in that atmosphere. — Dion DiMucci
“So what knocked on Johnny’s window?” my mother asked.
“I don’t know.” It was all my father could say, but to a ten-year-old boy, the incident confirmed that monsters and ghosts must be real.
Children fear to go in the dark
With time and maturity, I outgrew my belief in monsters. Unexplainable things happen, I concluded, like the mysterious knock on my bedroom window.
Fast forward several years, and I was now a university student back home for summer break. I stayed in the upstairs guest room since my childhood bedroom was occupied by my 95-year-old maternal grandmother, Mary.
Mary’s health had declined and she was no longer able to live alone in her apartment, so my mother began taking care of her.
During the first week I was back home, Mary collapsed in the bathroom. Mom was unable to lift her and screamed for help.
My father and I carried Mary to the bedroom and laid her down. Dad sat beside her, holding her hands.
Men fear death as children fear to go in the dark; and as that natural fear in children is increased by tales, so is the other. — Francis Bacon
He asked Mary how she was doing, and she faintly said, “I’m fine.” Right after that, her eyes seemed to change. They looked distant and cloudy.
Dad checked Mary’s pulse. Then he asked my Mom to bring him a small mirror, which she ran and brought back.
Dad held the mirror in front of Mary’s mouth, but there was no sign of breath. I felt strange. Fearful. Like something in the room had changed.
It was my first encounter with the real monster. Not the kind of monster you see in a Frankenstein movie or childhood nightmare, but the kind that whisks souls away.
The monster known as death.
Everything that I do is in honor of him
Following my university years, I entered the law enforcement profession and saw plenty of death, up close. Messy suicides, automobile accidents, and murder victims.
But in these incidents, I never saw the death monsters. Because they weren’t personal. But in the back of my mind, I could sense the death monsters lurking.
In later years, my father’s heart problems led to bypass surgery, and I always feared he’d succumb one day to a heart attack. But it didn’t happen that way.
In his mid-eighties, Dad descended into the fog of dementia. I think this hazy landscape in his mind became a playground for the monster. I could never see the monster outright but sensed its presence during Dad’s confused conversations.
Near the end, we called hospice. Dad was still alive but he seemed to be melting away into some kind of haunted landscape. It frightened me, like the stabbing fear I felt as a boy when something unseen knocked on my window.
The loss of my father will always sting. But now, everything that I do is in honor of him and celebrates his life. — Adrienne C. Moore
The day Dad died I was with him, holding his hands. Telling him how much I loved him. Saying that, if he was tired, to go ahead and sleep.
Dad’s breathing was uneven and slow. Much like with my dying grandmother, the room felt odd. I think it was the monster, not visible but hovering expectantly.
It was getting late. I said goodbye to my father and left him in the care of the hospice nurse. She called me a few hours later to say that Dad passed away.
It’s so much darker when a light goes out
Sooner or later, the monsters will come into your life. They often condition us with test runs. The death of pets, for example.
But nothing prepares you for the big encounters. Like this last January. Once again, I found myself holding a parent’s hands, in a hospice setting.
It’s so much darker when a light goes out than it would have been if it had never shone. — John Steinbeck, The Winter of Our Discontent
My 89-year-old mother’s body had had enough of Parkinson’s disease. Her twisted and frail body was unconscious but still breathing. The hospice nurse assured me that hearing is the last sense to go.
So I spoke to Mom. I told her, “I’ve got you. You’re okay. We love you. Rest now.”
I sensed that the monster had her, too. It must have been so hard for her to finally let go. To give in to the monster.
How we choose to live
How do we vanquish this monster called death? How do we face something so big and scary and final?
The answer begins in how we choose to live. The sacrifices we make for the ones we love. How we care for them.
I took care of my mother all through her elderly years. There were endless doctor appointments, grocery trips, Sunday visits, and more.
Of course, the years of taking care of my mother coincided with some of the busiest years of my professional career. And I was raising a teenage son.
Doing the right thing and making sacrifices for loved ones is often inconvenient. It’s understandable at times to feel frustrated.
But here’s the deal:
The investment you make in caring for loved ones is proportionate to how successfully you will vanquish the monsters later in life.
All the memories of surprising my mother with trips to the coffee shop, and the laughs we shared at doctor visits, protected me from the death monster.
The death monster may have bitten me a few times, but nothing fatal. The wounds and loss linger, but so does the love. And the love, I’ve found, is bigger. It eclipses the death monster.
Part of defeating the death monster is acceptance. Hating death doesn’t change the outcome, but it might change you.
Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you. — Friedrich Nietzsche
Death, once it happens to someone you love, is a monster you don’t want to fight. Doing so can bring bitterness and a dark heart. You risk never healing.
Yes, fight illness in yourself and your loved ones. Seek the best doctors. Take care of your body. But once death arrives, accept the path of grief.
Carry the loss with you. Rejoice in the memories. Be thankful for the sacrifices you made. And live your life. Those we loved and lost would want us to be happy.
In these ways, you can vanquish the monsters. You can defang them.
The wounds and loss may linger, but love will prevail. And love is the most powerful force in the universe.
Before you go
I’m John P. Weiss. I draw cartoons, paint, and write about life lessons. To follow along, sign up for my free Saturday Newsletter here.
This post was previously published on Medium.
You Might Also Like These From The Good Men Project
|Compliments Men Want to Hear More Often||Relationships Aren’t Easy, But They’re Worth It||The One Thing Men Want More Than Sex||..A Man’s Kiss Tells You Everything|
Join The Good Men Project as a Premium Member today.
All Premium Members get to view The Good Men Project with NO ADS.
A $50 annual membership gives you an all access pass. You can be a part of every call, group, class and community.
A $25 annual membership gives you access to one class, one Social Interest group and our online communities.
A $12 annual membership gives you access to our Friday calls with the publisher, our online community.
Register New Account
Need more info? A complete list of benefits is here.
Artworks by John P. Weiss