I sat with one hand on Dad's arm, the other hand's fingers laced through Tim's and I watched my dad sleep. Above his bed hung his donation number for the university that will receive his body when he dies. Next to that, an envelope for exchanging messages with the hospice folks. And above that, something new. A photograph of his tray table. I know why it is there. My dad is very particular about what goes where on his table. That picture is so the nurses know where to put stuff.
Although the table was carelessly pushed away from his bed. And he was shivering.
I alternated between gently rubbing his arm and stroking the beard on his face. He would wake for a few seconds at a time. Mostly when he heard Tim's voice. He asked me to read him Psalms. "Start at 137," he said. I waited for it to load on the e-reader. "Read to the end."
It took forever to load. Dad asked for a sheet--not a blanket, just a sheet. Maybe two. He was cold and tired he said. And then he fell back to sleep. Tim checked on the kids eating their dinner in the waiting room. I sat next to Dad. I stared at him.
I alternated between wanting him to wake up so we could talk, and wanting him to sleep so he could rest. Eventually, I went with rest.
Tim came back. He read Psalm 137. I read 138 and 139. As I started on 140--ready to read all the way to the end of the book--Dad woke up again. Said I needed to start at 121.
The man knows his Psalms.
He stayed awake for that one. Then he said he wasn't going to go to sleep, just that he needed to get ready to go to sleep.
And he fell asleep.
Two tears slipped out of my right eye. I remember wondering if I had ever cried two tears at the same time out of the same eye. I tipped my head and brushed them on my shoulder so Tim wouldn't see. Then I realized he was tearing up, too. Tim said something to me. It woke my dad up again. He always wakes up when he hears Tim. Dad asked Tim to pray.
One tear slipped out of my left eye. I didn't care. Dad was back asleep. Tim's eyes were closed because he was praying.
I've been very careful not to say goodbye to my dad. Always I'll tell him when I plan to visit again. Or I'll just say, "See you later."
In this case, goodbye really means what it is supposed to mean. And I do not want that. I'm not ready for that.
Although, it's been a luxury to know what is coming and still be able to have conversations with Dad. To tell him how much I love him. To hear him say my name. To see his smile when I visit. To tell him about the kids, and have him ask about the kids. The track meets. And soccer games. And baseball. And all of it. I have spent luxurious moments holding his warm hand, making jokes at my own expense, and watching him laugh. I have seen him sleep, felt his fear, and held him close. It has been luxurious.
I have learned to slow down. To pay attention to the people in this life. That everyone has a story. The woman who takes a little longer to go at a red light because she was absentmindedly staring out the window could have just lost a child. The child who lashes out in anger or rage could have just been placed in another new foster home. The washed-up prom queen in the vanity-plated, black BMW whose cell phone conversation seemed more important than paying attention could have been having her last conversation ever with her mom.
I don't know.
But I do know this: it feels absolutely luxurious to keep going to that nursing home to see my dad. Knowing that when I say, "See you tomorrow," I really mean it. Because he still might be here tomorrow. He still might be around for another conversation. Another Psalm. Another prayer. Another smile.
It has been a luxury to have this long, lingering goodbye with my dad. We have been blessed with seconds, moments, and weeks more than we expected.
And I am so grateful. So very grateful.
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