One of the most unexpectedly heartfelt and entertaining evenings we had together was the night the fire alarms on Dad’s floor went off. They were loud and clearly indicating something was happening just outside his hospital room. The funny thing is, that still makes me chuckle, is that it was the sirens from the fire trucks outside the hospital below his window that woke him up…
…it turned out be burnt toast from the kitchenette that someone walked away from…but for Dad and me, we made this crazy WTH moment our inside joke…
…like when you were being hoisted in that contraption thing that was supposed to lift you from your bed to the wheelchair and it didn’t work right, and you were left dangling in midair, in your ill-fitting hospital gown, burnt toast!
…like when we were bored in your room, so I wheeled you down to the gym to shoot some hoops and the doors were locked. After 9:00 pm and the gym closed?!? burnt toast!
…or like when your feet on the pedestals of the wheelchair didn’t quite clear people’s shins or hospital wall corners, and no it wasn’t my driving, burnt toast!
…the best was that one morning at breakfast, when I lifted the lid on your plate…burnt toast!!!
Anyway, that night, you couldn’t get back to sleep, so we sat up in the bed, played with the up down buttons until we weren’t sliding down anymore and stared at the wall. I don’t remember how our conversation started; but you shared how brave you thought I was.
It was only burnt toast, Dad and we weren’t in any real danger…
I asked why you would say that…I was speechless in that moment and taken off guard. You told me of specific moments you were proud of how brave I was. I guess I didn’t always see those moments throughout my life as being anything other than doing what was right and what was necessary. Perhaps, I was brave. And to hear you say it as you saw me, was so meaningful and kind of you.
I saw how brave was supposed to look like, Dad, it looked like you. You showed me how to stand tall and walk through life with my head held high. As I have said, I wanted to be like you since I was a little girl. I have always been intently watching and listening.
You told me I didn’t need to answer to false words spoken from false lips; that life doesn’t always go according to plan, but so what, re-plan. You had a way, Dad, of rolling with the punches.
As the night went way to dawn, we knew the morning nurse would be making rounds, breakfast was on its way, and it would be time for me to go home.
What had started with burnt toast entertainment; ended profoundly with my most memorable and grateful moment with you,…with the start of that new day, you softly said to me, “you’re a class act.”
I learned from the best, Dad…have a better day than yesterday and I’ll see you tonight.
…I asked my father if he was scared. Of course, he asked, “of what?”
I couldn’t actually say the word, death. It was that “word” you ought not say out loud, cause once you do, it becomes too real.
I didn’t reply and neither did he. Silence in that moment was weirdly comfortable between us and it sat with us awhile.
I was holding my dad’s hands. I had gently put his palm on my palm and opened his fingers to lie along mine as they tended to curl up in a fist. Neither of us twitched or squeezed each other’s hands even just the slightest at my question. We remained still. I held my breath. He remained quiet.
I suppose, he had already answered my question, in his own gentle, quiet way, long before this moment.
He had reconciled his life with his mortality; and his death was his final determination. He was putting all his remaining energy into it.
My eyes welled up with tears, my airways filled with utmost grief. I couldn’t exhale. My tears fell from my eyes and onto our hands. His eyes looked so sad.
We never said anything…then morning came, and it was time for me to go home.
I’ve thought about that moment. We never did revisit that question. I’m not sure what I was wanting to hear from him. I think I was really telling Dad that I was scared and angry how unfair all of this was for him. It just wasn’t fair.
But it was Dad’s way sometimes to say nothing and that in of itself said everything.
I think a man who would rather just sit with his daughter and her fear of his fate and embrace them both, is extraordinarily brave and valiant.
He was the one dying, yet, he was comforting me and my anxiety. I see now that we both felt what needed to be said without saying a word.
Was he scared? At one time, yes. And as there was no hope for recovery or staving off the progression of the disease for even a little while, Dad couldn’t be bothered with being scared. He resolved to embrace his fate. He wasn’t wanting placement in long term care. This would be his new normal.
I had asked Dad if this is what he thought the end of his life would look like. He said he didn’t know cause he wasn’t dead yet, he’d get back to me.
His resolve to do something and finish what he started was his personal and professional standard of excellence which served him well in life…
…unfortunately, this would not serve Dad well in dying. This is where dying to be dead is a paradox.
Dad stopped taking the endless rounds of pills, stopped eating and drinking. He didn’t want to talk anymore, his voice left him. He eventually closed his eyes, never wanting again to open them. Dad refused any form of sustenance. Only intravenous meds numbed his pain. He was on his way and with all his might, he let go…
…but his body was strong and held on tighter to live.
Dad was a tall man, well over six feet and a pillar of physical strength. As Dad willed himself to death, his body fought itself to live.
Dad was literally fighting against the strength of his own body which was still trying to sustain itself. This is a devastating paradox for a proud and gentle human being to be trapped in.
Too many days separated that moment to his eventual passing. I shudder to imagine how overwhelming all of that was for him. I lament at the angst and sorrow we all had.
It’s such a contradiction of how calm I could be while Dad silently struggled, not for his life, but for his death.
It was our thing… Dad and I would link our pinky fingers together. We did it when we made a promise to each other or later on as one of my ways to keep his fingers from curling into a fist. And when he stopped trying to live, it became my way to let him know I was there.
There were days when I wanted him to die. It broke my heart that I could think this. I wanted my Daddy to die. My chest would get heavy with such a thought, but his suffering needed to end. Peace would be his.
There were days I wanted him to hold on just a little longer, but I knew I was being selfish. Pain would be his, Peace would not.
Then, that morning, as I held him in my arms, he won.