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Martin’s Bucket List

A Voyage with His Sons Aboard Royal Nadir

“…On the 7NC Luxury Cruise, we are skillfully enabled in the construction of various fantasies of triumph over just this death and decay.”

—David Foster Wallace, A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again

“There goes my hero, 

Watch him as he goes

He’s ordinary…

—Foo Fighters, My Hero

Martin’s cancer returned in August for the fourth time in five years—this time, to the other lung. A rogue cell scampered from the offending lung, hid in that healthy lung and grew. He was tired. Martin wanted just two things: To cruise to Alaska with his three grown sons and to see his third grandkid into the world in January. He started low-dose chemo, in hopes of stretching his time. 

His wife, Denise, called their sons, two on the east coast, one in California, and said, “Please drop what you are doing and get out here to Seattle this month. I will help you plan a cruise with your father to Alaska last week of September. That’s at the top of his bucket list.” 

She booked the Royal Nadir, one of the largest cruise ships in the world, with 20 decks, 4000 passengers and 18 restaurants. The boys reserved their flights. Martin was losing strength and was issued a wheel chair.  

For her part, in the first week of September Denise took Martin to the Foo Fighters at Safeco Field. They left the concert a little bit early to beat the maddening crowd. The concert lifted Martin’s spirits. Temporarily. The Foo Fighters performed “My Hero,” his son Martin III’s favorite song; one Martin Jr. hoped was cherished by his son in reference to his own influence. 

Three weeks later, the sons arrived in Seattle to take the chemo-balding Martin on his bucket list cruise. They boarded the Royal Nadir on Sunday, with Martin III pushing his father Martin Jr. in his wheelchair. The two Martins shared a state room with an extra-wide, wheelchair-accessible door and the other two sons shared a state room down the hall.

That first night, the three sons wheeled Martin to watch the Seahawks at one of the sports bars on the ship, but the bar was too full. So they found the ship’s bowling alley bar with a big screen TV set to a different channel that the bartender refused to change. Ethan, the youngest son, a programmer, used his iPhone remote control app to commandeer the TV and change the channel. The bartender walked over to their table to complain and the oldest son took him aside, slipped him a $20 and told him about his dying dad. The Seahawks defeated the Cowboys. It would be Martin’s last Seahawks game.

Martin cheered and raised his arms in the air. The sons wheeled him to the Jimmie Buffett-branded Margaritaville Bar and they celebrated the Hawks’ victory with Big Volcano Nachos. And a pitcher of margarita. Martin savored his subterfuge; this subversive act.

The next day, Monday, the boys wrapped their father in blankets and wheeled him out on an upper deck to enjoy the fresh air. And that night, they pigged out at the ship’s famed BBQ restaurant. Martin ordered a White Russian. He smiled at the waitress. When the boys told him it wasn’t a good idea to order another a drink, he winked at the waitress and held up two fingers. She winked back and brought him the drink. It would be the last wink of a woman he would be privileged to receive. And that second White Russian would be Martin’s last.

He was having a good time. Martin called the evening a “grand adventure” and so the boys wheeled him to the Cavern Club for a nijikai (second par-tay). The club was raucous and high energy, with strobing lights. A Beatles cover band played, rousing the crowd. Martin snapped his fingers. And swayed his head. It would be the last Beatle’s song he would ever hear. It would be the last live music he would nod in rhythm to. 

On Tuesday, the ship reached the fjords off Alaska. Passengers boarded smaller ships to get closer to the shore. The boys bundled their father in blankets and wheeled him aboard one of the boats. As they approached the shore, Martin spied the lumbering back of a great creature, a black bear. He started getting tired. He flagged. The cold air was too harsh for his lungs. It was time to return to the mothership where the sons tucked Martin into bed and spooned clam chowder into his mouth. It was the last clam chowder he would ever sip. The black bear was the last wildlife he would ever witness.

On Wednesday, when the ship moored in Juno, Martin was running a fever. The ship’s doctor suggested they take him to a hospital onshore. The boys folded his wheelchair into a large taxi at the port and drove him to the Juno hospital. The doctor there suggested that Martin fly back immediately to Seattle. But Martin insisted they board the ship to continue their grand adventure. Martin III pressured the doctor to write a note declaring that Martin Junior could continue the voyage. It was the last time Martin would ever ride in a taxi. It was the last time he would ever set foot on land.

Thursday Martin stayed in bed in his state room to recover. He did not want to spend his time in the ship’s hospital. He dictated a text message through his middle son Matt to his brother in Seattle. “Write Greg that I am having the time of my life! Put an exclamation mark on it! Send him that picture of me with the waitress and the White Russians! Don’t send it to Denise. She’ll kill me! Send her the one of the Beatles!” He said he wanted a “boys night out” Thursday night. He hankered for his favorite meal of Prime Rib and cheesecake. So, when evening came, they wheeled him to the best restaurant on the ship. It was his last favorite meal. It was his last meal. It was his last supper with his boys. It was the last time his boys would wheel him anywhere.

The next morning, Friday, when Martin III awoke, he said, “How’d you sleep, Dad?” He heard no response. He leaned over his father’s bed and put his hand on his father’s shoulder. His father wasn’t awaking into full consciousness. The three boys called the doctor and Martin Jr. was transported to the ship hospital. Martin died peacefully Friday morning, surrounded by his three sons, with a kind of smirk on his face. Orderlies wheeled Martin’s body on a gurney into a service elevator to the bowels of the ship and through an unmarked door to the ship’s morgue to join two other passengers who had also taken their last voyage. Nothing would spoil the other living passengers’ vacations. Only the three boys and the other two decedents’ spouses knew of the morgue in the hull of the Royal Nadir.

The next day, the three boys crossed into the waters of the Port of Seattle. Police cars and removers from my funeral home met them at the dock. The sons had accompanied Martin on his last grand adventure. They vividly remembered every single day. 

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