The Old Grey Mule

The Old Grey Mule

A Story by Samuel Dickens
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A true story about my dad.

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The news from the doctor was grim--dad had terminal cancer. The exact type wasn’t known, and they weren’t going to run any more tests on a 90 year-old man than they had to. He had long complained to his doctor about his intestinal problems, but nothing had ever been done. He was old-- right? Everyone dies of something, eventually. He had somewhere between a month and six months to live, so the doctor said.

                “You’re the oldest. Will you tell him?” I asked my sister, Mary.

                “Why, no, Sammy, I’m not telling him!”

                “He has to know.”

                She looked away, frowned and said, “I can’t tell him.”

                “He’s dying, Mary. Don’t you think he deserves to know? What about you, Patsy?” I asked my next older sister.

                “No, I couldn’t. I just couldn’t,” said Patsy, not making eye contact.

                “If it was me lying there, I’d want to know,” I stressed.

                “But he’ll be happier during his last days if we don’t tell him!” whispered Mary.

                I continued to argue. “He might have something to say to someone. There might be some kind of arrangements he’ll want to make. I mean, who knows?”

                No one wanted to tell him, and that wasn’t acceptable to me. I’m always the one who rocks the boat, it seems. Always the one who isn’t willing to let things be--why is that?  Mother always told me I was just a smaller version of my father, but she was wrong. It was her genes in me that made me refuse to roll over and take the easy way out.

                I announced to the others, “I’m telling him. He has a right to know, and if no one else is going to do it, I will!”

                Mary, Patsy and the others mumbled, “Okay,” and looked at the floor.

                I walked down the corridor toward dad’s room with a lump in my throat. I didn’t want to say the words, either.  Did they think it would be easy for me? An old, very pertinent  memory came flooding back.

**

                Crying inconsolably, I didn’t know about this thing called "death". Dad just told me about how everybody dies one day. Even he would die, he said, and it was too much for me to take. My five year-old mind wasn’t ready for such news.

                “But it's okay, Sammy; I’ll go to a wonderful paradise called heaven,” he insisted.

                “But I don’t want you to die, daddy!”

                I continued to cry, and no amount of his explaining helped.

                Dad rubbed my head like he often did and said, “Alright, well, you know, I’ve decided I won’t die after all."

                My sobbing slowed and I blubbered, “You won’t?”

                “No. When I get really old and grey, and it’s time for me to die, I’ll just turn into an old grey mule. I’ll go to a pasture and eat grass all day. People will drive by and say ‘Just look at that old grey mule out there!”

                That didn’t seem so bad. No grave, no coffin--just grazing out there in the warm sun all day. I stopped crying. Everything wasn’t fine, but it was acceptable. My daddy would just become an old grey mule.

**

                I walked quietly into the hospital room. It was hard for me to speak without my voice breaking.

                “Dad.”

                “Oh, hi Sammy.”

                “Do you remember that story you told me when I was little, about you turning into an old grey mule one day?”

                “Yes.”

                “Uh, dad. It’s that time.”

                “Well, okay.”  He replied calmly. Rolling his eyes around, I could tell that it was a hard pill for him to swallow, but then he began to smile.

                Dad lived to see his 91st birthday, but passed away shortly afterwards. There was a funeral, but I know that wasn’t him in the box. No, I saw him just yesterday, standing in a sunlit field, chewing tender green grass.

               


© 2014 Samuel Dickens



Author's Note

Samuel Dickens
Written several years ago. Two of those who were there that day--Mary and Bob, have joined Dad in the great beyond.

My Review

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Featured Review

This is a sweet story of being put out to pasture! That is such a gentle way to view death. I think I'll adopt it! (((HUGS))) . . . Sending warm wishes for sharing this heartfelt vignette & opening your heart to us. Since my family has been very fractured, we never have conversations like this. It's interesting to see how a family pulls together, despite differences.

Posted 1 Year Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Samuel Dickens

1 Year Ago

Thank you. With the exception of Bob, I don't think either sister approved of my telling him. When M.. read more
barleygirl

1 Year Ago

I tend to be a "head in the sand" type of person, but I also applaud those who deal with the difficu.. read more



Reviews

This is a sweet story of being put out to pasture! That is such a gentle way to view death. I think I'll adopt it! (((HUGS))) . . . Sending warm wishes for sharing this heartfelt vignette & opening your heart to us. Since my family has been very fractured, we never have conversations like this. It's interesting to see how a family pulls together, despite differences.

Posted 1 Year Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Samuel Dickens

1 Year Ago

Thank you. With the exception of Bob, I don't think either sister approved of my telling him. When M.. read more
barleygirl

1 Year Ago

I tend to be a "head in the sand" type of person, but I also applaud those who deal with the difficu.. read more
A poignant tale Samuel, and one that brought vivid memories with it.
I too was the one that had to tell my Dad. I didn't want to leave it to a doctor who didn't know him and he had a lot wrong with him and for the last year of his life was in hospital for long spells, before being released, only to be rushed back in within a day. It was the most surreal thing I have ever done. For the first time, I saw my Dad staring intently at me, nod and then ask how Celtic (our soccer team) got on.
My mum is still convinced he never understood, but I know he did. I think he knew before I told him.
He passed a few days after the 9/11 atrocity and it was the last thing we spoke about. His answer was his usual brief but succinct self. It consisted of two words and both of them unprintable here.
I know he appreciated being told, just like your Dad would have. Some things don't need to be said.


Posted 2 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Samuel Dickens

2 Years Ago

Thank you. A few years later, it was oldest sister Mary who lay there dying, (stage four lung cancer.. read more
alifeacoustic

2 Years Ago

Well If when I am in that position, I know for sure that I want to know, no matter how it would affe.. read more
I have to tell you I could feel this story when I read it. Takes me back to my own father dying. I did get to tell him I love him, your writing had me going back to that time. Thank you!

Posted 2 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Samuel Dickens

2 Years Ago

Thanks, Christopher.
The way you write definitely impacts the readers a lot
Thanks for sharing this with us, Sam

Posted 2 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Samuel Dickens

2 Years Ago

Thanks, Gaston.
Sam, I can't believe I haven't read this. You must have written it before I came to W/C. What a great story it is. What a wonderful life your father must have had.

My own father lived to be 90; so did hiw two brothers (actually, they lived to be over 90.) They all died within the same year.

Posted 2 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Samuel Dickens

2 Years Ago

Thanks, Marie. Somehow, Dad outlived all of his siblings, including several sisters. I miss him a lo.. read more
damn! I swear I'm trying hard not to cry. what a gift you have my friend! your writing is amazing. you know how to reach inside the reader's chest, grab their heart and squeeze. and what an ending!!!!!
may your father rest in peace.

Posted 2 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Samuel Dickens

2 Years Ago

Thanks, Woody. I think my father can take most of the credit.
Sam, I think we would all like to be that old tray mule, true life is more emotional than any story we could imagine. We all have family, mothers, fathers ..in Ireland we have a saying ' Three score and ten' to reach that age was assumed to be your lot. To reach 90 is a good life. I enjoyed this short walk with you.
Will

Posted 3 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Samuel Dickens

3 Years Ago

Thanks a lot, Will. Yes, dad was fortunate, I think. He out-lived two brothers and four sisters.
You know that lump you had in your throat up there^? Well, I have one, too. What a lovely story, Sam. The last line was perfect. Angi~

Posted 4 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Samuel Dickens

4 Years Ago

Thanks, Angi. Dad was a very unique person. He liked books and writing, and kept a photo of Charles .. read more
oh I like that thought Sam ! Strange isn't it how the right words just fall into place when the time comes... A story with great meaning & lessons for us all !

Posted 4 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Samuel Dickens

4 Years Ago

Thanks, Renee. Dad's clever words reemerged 50 years later to ease the pain of death a second time. .. read more
Renée

4 Years Ago

yes it is .. and I am glad you shared them ( :
This is very comforting, and I love its truth.

Posted 6 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.


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Added on January 10, 2010
Last Updated on August 2, 2014
Tags: death

Author

Samuel Dickens
Samuel Dickens

Foot of the Ozarks, AR



About
Greetings, all. I'm a sixty-nine year-old father of three sons who enjoys writing, art, music, motorcycles, cooking, and a few other things. From 1967 to 1988, I served in the US Navy, where I travele.. more..

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