I write these words knowing that you are not here to read them. It’s been five days since you died. Five days since you took your last breath and let go. You died slowly. Painfully. Not at all the way I ever imagined you would. I always imagined you would go swiftly, quickly, and hopefully without pain. I always figured I would get a phone call to say that you had passed away. I didn’t expect to be with you, to watch you in your final few moments.
After a lifetime of beating the odds, they finally caught up with you. In a hospice room, on the first day of Fall, you left this world. Did you know it was the first day of Fall? Did you somehow choose to walk from this world into the next with the change of season?
Did you hear me say that your room overlooked a butterfly garden? I hope you did. Because I know that you always associated butterflies with your mother and believed that’s how she came to visit with you after she died. When I looked out from your hospice room, the garden will filled with them. As sad as it was to hear you labor to breathe and realize that your death was so near, seeing all those butterflies was reassuring. It made me think that maybe they were there to guide you on the next step of your journey.
The day that you died, you seemed to be peaceful and calm. Not like the night before when you were restless and fidgeting, picking at your clothes, and still trying to climb out of the bed even though your legs would not support you and you had lost the use of your left arm. I wonder where it was you meant to go. What did you see that was powerful enough to make you want to get up?
The look of your eyes haunts me. Once so clear and bright, they were milky and dull with sickness at the end. And yet somehow, the night before you died, you opened those eyes and recognized me. You knew my name. You knew that I had just gotten back from Alaska. And there was enough of you still there, in that dying body, to crack a joke or two.
When you asked me for a hug, at the end of those few minutes of awareness, I should have known that you were getting ready to go. You were only a hugger when there were goodbyes being said. But in the moment, that thought didn’t occur to me. And now I wish I would have hugged you longer and held on tighter. Did I even tell you that I loved you? I can’t remember.
And I can’t remember what your laugh sounded like. I try to hear it in my head and there’s nothing. It’s as though the night three weeks before you died when you were surrounded by friends, laughing and carrying on, had never happened. But I was there. I saw you laughing. I heard you laughing. I just can’t hear it now, no matter how hard I try.
What I can hear is the sound of you breathing the morning you died. You weren’t hooked up to any machines. There was no heart monitor peeping or respirator rising and falling to muffle the sound of your labored breaths. There was only your raspy and gargled breathing. And it was the absence of that sound, the silence of your room, that told me you were gone. You waited until we had stepped out of the room for a moment, and you slipped away.
It’s been five days of my mind racing, trying to mentally grab hold of bits and pieces of you. The way you tried to teach me how to properly hold a knife and chop. How you passed on your love of driving with the windows down, even in the dead of winter. The way the whiskers on your cheek, usually clean shaven, softly bristled under my fingers when I touched your face for the last time. How you could see, and convincingly argue, six sides to any given issue. The fact that you did not allow chicken to be cooked or served in your house and yet you asked for chicken noodle soup when you got sick. The amount of knowledge that you had. These are the things that I didn’t read in your obituary. These are the things that made you who you were.
I wish I had known you more as a person and not just as a parent; to maybe have understood you a little better. 64 years is not a long life but I’m glad that in that time you were able to see me grow out of my youthful arrogance and find my way in life. I’m glad that during our last phone call I told you how much I admired and respected the attitude you took during your illness. I am grateful that we connected through the food I made to try and comfort you. And I thank you for your final gift of waiting until I got there to say goodbye.