“There’s got to be an ending” – Farewell to Phil Harris

“There’s got to be an ending” – Farewell to Phil Harris

“Got to get the end, the end to the story – there’s got to be an ending”

Phil Harris to Todd Stanley

On this week’s “After the Catch”, cameraman Todd Stanley told us about his final days with Phil Harris, and Phil’s request that he film those days in the hospital.  Todd relayed the story of spending hours upon hours in the wheelhouse with Phil, explaining to him that every good story had to have a beginning, and middle, and an end.  When Phil awoke in the hospital, he called Todd to his side and made it clear that he wanted him to film this journey.  He told Todd that there had to be an ending to the story.  This week on “Deadliest Catch” we were privilege to bear witness to that ending – the ending of the story of Phil Harris; father, friend, and fisherman.

I don’t want to walk through a scene by scene recap of this week’s episode.  For one, I don’t think that I could do it justice.  Second, it’s an emotional journey that you need to experience for yourself.  This was among one of the most devastating and emotionally draining hours of television that I have ever seen.  What I do want to do is talk about a few of the moments that have stayed with me this week, and continued to resonate in my mind.

I came in to this week’s episode with a healthy dose of trepidation and concern.  It’s odd in a way.  You know how the story is going to end – you know that Phil is not going to make it.  And still, when the episode started, and Jonathan sent word to the fleet that Phil was doing better than expected – you couldn’t help but hope, for just a moment, that maybe everything would turn out all right.  Maybe it would turn out to be a big a misunderstanding and Phil was alive and recuperating in Alaska as you watched.  But it was not to be.  Knowing what was to come before the end of the hour, it was hard to see the rays of hope break across the captains’ faces – a brief moment of happiness before the storm.

If you’ve watched this season, you know that Jake and Phil had a serious confrontation just before Phil’s stroke.  It was a very uncomfortable and honest look at the hurt and pain that can only be caused by someone that you love.  Had Phil passed away on the boat, I cannot imagine the guilt and pain that Jake would have taken with him for the rest of his life.  As it was, Jake was able to spend more time with his dad.   He was able to let him know that he was going to check himself into rehab.  He was able to put things right. Phil was able to tell Jake that he was proud of him for seeking the help that he needed, and they were able to find closure.  To then watch Jake leave for rehab was one of the most poignant moments in the show.   Knowing that he was going to do the right thing, but knowing that he would never see his dad again was heart wrenching.

The other moment that stuck with me was Josh’s conversation with Phil about what type of father he was.  Phil talked with Josh in the hospital, and apologized for not being a better father to the boys. Josh responded:

Dad you’ve been the best father you could ever have been. You’ve taught me great skills. So don’t ever say that. Don’t ever apologize for that. You’ve taught me everything I need to know to be a man, and I’m gonna take care of you as best I f*ckin’ possibly can. I don’t give a sh*t. I ain’t lettin’ you out of my sight. The same thing you’d do for me. You know. I love you, buddy.

Josh broke down after the conversation but he, in many ways, proved what he said.  In that moment, in the hospital, he was able to be the man that his father taught him to be.  He was able to take care of his father in the same way Phil had taken care of him as a child.  He was also able to tell him just how much he loved him.  I can only hope that that gave Phil the comfort of knowing that he had, in fact, done his job well, and raised his sons to be good men.

The end of the episode, indeed the entire end of Phil’s journey, was handled by Discovery with a love and compassion that speaks to the impact that Phil had on those around him.  This was one of the most honest and intimate hours of television that I have ever seen.  But as that final shot of the empty Bering Sea faded to black, I was struck by thought – “I will get up in the morning and go on about my life.  For this past hour I have mourned Phil and lived through that pain – but I will eventually leave it behind.  It will always be something that happened to someone else.”  For Jake, and Josh, and Phil’s family and crew – this will be with them every day for the rest of their lives.  They will not be able to leave it behind.  It’s now part of who they are.  It’s a moment in time that will forever change their lives – and they chose to share it with all of us.  They chose to open themselves up and share those moments with us.  For me – that’s a gift that can’t be repaid.

In those last days in the hospital, Phil understood the truth – every good story has to have a beginning, a middle, and an end.  For Phil, God saw fit to provide for that ending.  Time to spend with family, time to spend with friends – time to say “Goodbye”, “I’m proud of you”, and “I love you”.  Those are the rewards of a life well lived.  Those are the memories that we will take with us.  Thank you Phil for letting us laugh, and cry, and fish alongside of you over the past few years.  You’ll be missed.

Phil Harris  12/19/56 – 2/9/10

© 2010, The Word Zombie. All rights reserved.

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