I might take down the clock if I’m here a few more days; and the laminated sheet which notes television stations he will never watch. I would at least ask someone to fill in the information on the empty whiteboard I’ve stared at for a week; the one that says “Nurse:” “Contact:” with smiley faces next to frowny faces to indicate his pain tolerance. That one I’d cross off; he can’t feel anything. If he had more time, I might have filled it in myself since I know the names and shifts of everyone on this ward.
Most certainly I might move the two boxes of latex gloves from the wall inside the door to the wall outside the door. Nothing says “If I touch you, I might die” like latex gloves. I might turn around the health monitor above his head to face the opposite wall since I memorized his steady vitals days ago. At the very least I would turn off the incessant beeping noise.
Three times I moved his food trays into the bathroom. I explained the meals are merely trice-daily reminders that he hasn’t regained consciousness—the dank brown tray and plate cover, the aroma of onion soup he doesn’t know exists.
I’m okay with the medical jargon I’ve picked up. I’m okay with sitting here. Because I know as sure as I know his blood pressure, blood oxygen level, and pulse, I will miss waiting, miss the slim possibility, miss the sliver of “just maybe.”
The text from my brother read, “He’s gone. Come back over.”
I dismissed class just after 8:30 at night and left for the hospice center only a few miles from the college. I forgot to tell the students it would be a few weeks before I returned. I knew this was coming but I knew as well that it would still startle me, snap me out of the subconscious illusion that Dad was at his condo watching a movie. I drove to see my suddenly-late father.
My mother, siblings, and I took turns saying goodbye once more, this time after the fact. I went last. He looked gone—as if he’d been dismissed, like he transferred to a different body, a stronger vessel. I held his bare arm below the sleeve of the green golf shirt they provided. I wondered if all the patients had the same shirt. The entire building had a sense of oneness, of warm togetherness, like all the nurses should have the same name, and all the patients looked like my dad.
I held his bare arm and kissed his withdrawn face. I thought he might feel cold, and perhaps his arm would feel cold to a stranger, but not to me. No, to me Dad’s arm felt warm from the sun from all those days at the field coaching my brother in Little League, and from sitting all day in the bleachers at Shea Stadium, buying me hotdogs, letting me keep score as he showed me how to fill in the small boxes. Then his arm felt almost wet, like from the pool water at the house on the Island, or from the resort pool when we went swimming at one of his conferences when I was fifteen.
I touched his face and it, too, was not cold, but warm from the August heat when we canoed on the Lynnhaven those first two summers at the Beach. I smiled, wanted to remind him of our trip to the big theater to see the premier of Jaws, how he jumped when the man’s head appeared that night in the hole of the hull of the boat.
When I took his folded hand in mine, it felt stiff, but not from some medical transition; no, from his muscular grip when he took my infant son in his arms and laughed, his eyes wider than Space, his laugh deeper than love, just moving Michael up and down as his grandson laughed and laughed, reaching for his nose, for his glasses.
He looked barren in the green golf shirt. I wondered where his glasses were. Home, I suppose. Yes, I am sure everything of his at that point was at home.
We all drove home separately. It had been a week. No. Not a week. Six days. Almost a week since that morning I had stopped at the hospital about seven-thirty to check on him, expecting another day of quietness after a week of him never regaining consciousness.
But I walked in to see his eyes wide open, staring at the ceiling, then at me.
“Well hello,” he said in his baritone voice I can still hear.
“Hey Dad, how are you?”
“I’ve been here since 4:30 this morning.”
“You’ve been here for four days.”
“Four days! What hotel am I at? Ha! Hotel! I wish I was at a hotel! What hospital?”
He could have been thirty years younger. After a long, slow erosion from dementia, I had not heard Dad so lucid in a year. More.
“You’re near home, Dad. You’re at the hospital right near home.”
“It is serious, then? Tell me.”
“You have pneumonia, Dad.”
“So I probably don’t have much longer, do I?”
And that nurse came in. I didn’t want to answer Dad anyway, but I didn’t want to stop talking. I wanted the nurse to leave, to turn around and walk out fast, so I could tell him we hadn’t thought he had much longer but now he sounds great. And we would have talked about the Notre Dame/USC game he had watched with my brother, and then I would tell him how my students were thrilled I had to leave class, and we would both laugh, and he would say when we got home we need to have just a little Scotch, and he’d hold his index finger and thumb up to show me how much.
But the nurse came in and Dad checked out. That night I rode in the transport ambulance to take him to hospice.
We had Scotch on Tuesdays. I’d arrive at his place about nine-thirty at night and before I could take off my jacket, he would say, “Okay I’ll have just a little,” or “Gee, my hand feels pretty empty,” and we would laugh, and I’d go get two glasses of Scotch, though mine was mostly water. I never liked Scotch, but he never knew that.
One thought on “Wait/Loss”
Bob, That was a warm and wonderful tribute to your Dad. Sounds like he was a lot of fun. I remember my own Dad in very much the same way. I’m sure I’ll miss him forever; until I don’t. Your friend, Diane Goss
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