A Brief Public Rest
by Charles C. Cole
I arrived late for our company service awards dinner. I had not planned on attending at all, run-down as I was feeling. My father was dying at home from an aggressive cancer. I was a primary caregiver. He was on hospice care, which meant a nurse visited for an hour each day to check his pulse, drain his catheter and make his bed.
Dad would be dead in thirty days. We made sure he was relatively comfortable and pain-free, thanks to a fentanyl patch. We moved a borrowed hospital bed into the living room, pushing the sofa out of the way. Over one of the stained pine beams that decorated the vaulted ceiling, Dad looped a hemp rope, so he could pull himself upright when I wasn’t there.
Mom helped where she could, mostly by keeping things normal — walking the dog, making coffee, being company — but Dad was more apt to snap at her, accusing her of being impatient with the process. When she filled her gas tank for the first time in her life, he remarked, “You just can’t wait for me to die, can you?”
I was on the Employees Activities Committee at work. We thought we needed entertainment for the annual event’s other attendees, those not receiving awards. We settled on a regional hypnotist.
I was tired. My wife, sister and I were splitting day-long shifts at my parents’ home. My office had been very supportive, allowing me to use two sick days per week for the month. Sometimes Dad and I watched reruns of ’80s action shows. Sometimes I used the tractor, while chainsawing and collecting the next winter’s wood. Dad was reassured that Mom would have plenty of firewood for her first winter on her own.
Sometimes I listened to Dad talk about his childhood, being raised by his great-grandparents, his parents having divorced when he was still an infant. His father had once said, “The worst thing I ever did was giving you my name.”
I stepped into the back of the banquet hall and grabbed a vacant seat at the nearest table. The hypnotist was still looking for volunteers.
Our Chief Financial Officer backed away from the stage, comically. Though typically anything but shy, he was afraid of being coerced. “Can I hide with you?” he asked.
“I need a few more adventurous people,” said the hypnotist.
“Fine,” whispered the CFO in a sudden and unexpected turnabout. “What do you say? I will if you will.”
I felt I was in control of his satisfaction and that I had better answer correctly.
“Two more!” he called out.
We went up. We closed our eyes. “You feel completely relaxed. Let yourself go. You feel completely at peace.” I was cooperative without restraint, a drooping human puddle like the famous clock painting Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali.
During the next hour, we entertained the staff by playing orchestral “air piano” and play-acting a primary school bus ride to get ice cream on an extremely hot day. I even did an interview as an invading alien, speaking in Martian!
Until that night, I always thought participants in a hypnotist’s show were flagrant exhibitionists, former class clowns looking for another opportunity to enjoy the focused attention allowed by a bright spotlight. That was not me.
Afterwards, when I was safely back at my table, somebody triggered a suggestion, a cue, and I jumped up at my seat, yelling, “The British are coming! The British are coming!” There were plenty of laughs that, in retrospect, I felt were at our expense.
I called my wife. I was trembling. “You look exhausted!” some well-wisher commented.
As near as I can figure it, I wanted rest more than anything and, when the hypnotist offered me a convincing and abiding peace, I lunged for it, willing to say or do anything to stay in that zone of contentment. I remember the act, my eyes mostly closed and heavy, my limbs posable like an action figure, but I didn’t feel self-conscious until the next day at work when people joked about the experience, people who thought the same way I had, about amateur actors enjoying a captured audience. Those who knew me were as surprised as I was. It wasn’t like I couldn’t say, “No,” but like I didn’t want to. At the time, “Yes” was easier.
“I'm going to count to three. On three you will feel wide awake and fully refreshed.” When the hypnotist snapped us out of our trance, he reclaimed all of the reassuring comfort I had borrowed for the evening. I wasn’t sure I had the energy to drive home, but I managed.
Do I believe in hypnotism? I didn’t. Can people be forced to do things against their will while under hypnosis? I can only speak from experience. In business meetings, I typically sit quietly in the back of the room. The night of our event, I didn’t arrive with the notion of grandstanding. Yes, I was on the organizing committee, but my participation was in contacting the entertainer, forwarding the contract, not hosting. Will I ever volunteer for a hypnotist again? Absolutely not.
Dad died soon thereafter. He did not leave us quietly or peacefully; he just wasn’t ready. When I called the visiting nurse representative as circumstances started going steeply downhill, she said she was having guests, to use our judgment with the morphine to control the pain and to call her later.
You would think I would have been grateful for the lull, but my mother was now alone, writing her first check, balancing the checkbook for the first time, and fighting non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
I went out in the woods and cut a dead pine tree. It would burn hot and fast. It snagged against another tree. I used Dad’s come-along, a ratcheting hand winch. When I got it down, I finally noticed the quiet around me, then Mom called me up the hill to take her for treatment.
Copyright © 2014 by Charles C. Cole