Like anything dead, it seems so final. I’m sitting beside my father’s death bed. There’s that word again.
Death. It’s why you say goodbye when you can. Why you say, thank you and I love you, over and over. So when the only sound is the shallow breathing of the ventilator and the steady beep of the monitor, you know you’ve said all you needed to say.
It’s why I sat at the dining table listening to him talk about dumplings, the weather, or his brokerage firm, none of it really significant. What’s significant besides who you love and how you love? And sometimes this means you drink hot tea and listen like it really matters, because it does. Not the topic, but the time. Because this is my father, and you never know how much time you have.
My father is lying with his eyes closed, mouth propped open with the ventilator. If I squint I can erase all those tubes keeping him alive. I can pretend he has just fallen asleep, mouth half open, the way I’ve seen him so many times, in his favorite spot on our wicker loveseat, leaning against a cushion, newspaper in his lap. He has drifted off to a place where there are no hard choices and no discrepancies between the age of his body and the age he feels inside.
I knew this time would come one day. I just never knew how or when. My mom went back to the house to take her first shower in two days. I’m thankful to have this time alone with my father.
The nurse comes in to take his temperature. I have to do it rectally, she says, because I’m not getting a good reading. But I tell her no. Anyway, what is the point of taking his temperature? We’ll spare him yet another indignity in these last hours. If nothing else, I can do that for him. Even though he’s not really here. When does a spirit leave a body, I wonder.
One last time I reach out to hold his hand. It rests in quiet repose on the white hospital blanket. Just days before, that hand was pointing at the selfies he took on his ipad. We were laughing.
I’ve seen that hand poised over thin rice paper, sweeping inky brushstrokes across white. That same hand had closed over mine, teaching me how to write my first alphabet. It had held mine as we walked together, my seven year old stride trying to match his. It had tightened as we crossed the street. Now my hand closes over his, the hand of my father.
They come in again to put compressors on his legs. The legs that have been failing him, not doing what he wanted them to do. His bright red hospital socks are emblazoned with white letters XXL, non-skid, though they never touched the ground. It’s the only time he’s ever worn anything bigger than a medium, but size doesn’t matter when you’re brain dead. The red socks will be the last thing he put on, if I don’t include changing out hospital gowns. Did they know red is his favorite color?
It’s 4:07, a few hours yet before sunset. A tree spreads its naked branches outside the window. It looks dead, but it’s springtime, a promise it will come to life again one day.
How do you prepare for the inevitable but unexpected?