A week after my visit with Dad I received a call from my sister telling me that he was in bed and likely wasn’t getting out again. Her words were something to the effect that he was going downhill fast. What a curious phrase—don’t people usually go downhill fast? I arrived the next day. When I went into his bedroom, he raised his head, looked my way and said something like, Hey, Bruce is here. It was like he had been waiting for me to come. I was glad I was there.
Dad was sixty-five, a young, strong, sixty-five. His father lived into his eighties and were it not for the cancer, I have every reason to believe he would had lived that long. His body was firm, toned, and showed no visible signs of deterioration. Because of this, he hung on for almost a week. The nurse who came by daily was amazed by his endurance. Mom was talking about making arrangements for someone to sit with him so the two sons who lived out of town could go back home. Everyone was quiet, no one wanted to leave and no one thought the end was not coming soon; it was just taking longer than we thought.
My two brothers and I took shifts staying with him. At first, we just stayed near his room so when he had coughing fits we could be there to assist him. Then he began to lapse in and out of consciousness. We were giving him morphine pills to make him more comfortable. One morning he came out his stupor momentarily as he smelled coffee and wanted some. We wanted to give it to him but the cancer had invaded his esophagus and giving him any would only cause more choking and coughing. Even the morphine was now being administered via a patch on his arm. These are the hard choices you have to make with the dying—a moment of pleasure vs. what will probably be a much longer moment of gasping and wheezing for breath. You wonder how qualified you are to make such a decision and whether your decision will reflect your interests more than his. But still, I’m glad I was there to make these types of decisions. I’m his son and right or wrong, I should be doing this.
Mom and my sister come in but my sister soon leaves to wake up our brother who is sleeping in one of the bedrooms downstairs. There’s nothing that we can do but watch as Dad takes one final gasp of breath. I have never been present when someone has died and like anyone else, I have my reservations about it. Like a lot of things in life though, this doesn’t work out like I think it will. Dad’s passing is very peaceful and it doesn’t take me long to realize what a blessing it has been to me to be there with him during the final week of his life and “help” him in this way.
I went by his grave the other day. As I stood there, I tried to reconcile the body buried beneath my feet with the person whose presence had loomed so large in my life. It seemed so odd that I could no longer just pick up the phone and speak with him or pull in his driveway and be greeted by him. My thoughts turned to my son and how he will deal with my death one day. As I walked back to my car, the chorus of a song popular when I was growing up played in my mind. It was Everything I Own by David Gates and Bread. I had always dismissed the song as being about some adolescent romance gone wrong. Later though I found out that Gates had written the song about his departed father. With this new piece of information, the lyrics in the song were transformed from something rather saccharine to something rather haunting.
I would give everything I own
Give up my life, my heart, my home.
I would give everything I own,
Just to have you back again.
Just to touch you, once again.
I sure miss you, Dad.