I recently watched my father die and for him, dying seemed to be as easy as falling off a log. He insisted that he would die in our home, not in a nursing home.
“I won’t. I can’t do it! We can’t let him die here.”
“You will and you can. We will not deny a 97-year-old man his last wish.” My husband glared at me. There was no doubt that he would make sure my father was granted his last wish and damn it! I knew he was right.
As the Hospice staff dragged in the adult diapers, the metal lifts, the hospital bed, and the clear plastic bag of potent pain killers—bottles that boldly displayed those ominous black skeletons; as my father calmly settled into my son’s old room, into that make-shift hospital room—decorated with a Green and Gold Packer’s poster and a Preble High School Track & Field banner; as my father refused to eat; as he declined to drink water from a cup; as he sucked on the clean aqua sponge that I gently placed on his lips every few hours; and as he slept, I wrote the following poem:
Yesterday, I laughed, ignored that cliff. Now, in two bounds I’d plummet; I’d plunge into the foamy water, crashing against the stone-cold shimmering wall of jagged rocks.
Yesterday, my dad, younger, stronger, gently threaded the fly-line around my fingers, proud as I snagged my first bluegill. Now his crooked fingers, his swollen knuckles clutch his walker. His head tilts, not recognizing my sister.
Yesterday, my mother slapped my face when I told her, told the world to go to hell. Now she’s been gone for over twenty-five years. Damn I miss her.
Yesterday, honeymoon sex, trail of clothes, thunder and lightning. Now soft whispers. Warm, gentle rain.
Yesterday, my son, no taller than my waist, jumped up and down as he swung that fish towards me, laughing, real laughter. Now he’s an accountant, married, health insurance. Laughs sarcastically.
Yesterday, my daughter texted Fuck You, get out of my life. Now she sits across the table, listens, slides her hand over mine as I describe her grandfather—so fragile, fading away.
Yesterday, gadgets slowly floated past me—8-tracks, cassettes, flip phones. Now I reach out, try to grab, but miss.
Yesterday, I ran full speed towards that cliff, laughing, lying to myself, ignoring the crashing waves. Now I saunter, not even a smile, noticing, so many yesterdays, because ‘now’ peers over the cliff.
As my father silently slept, as I began to hear a soft rattle rising from his chest—like a hand saw slowly grinding through a board, as the carpenter moved closer, as the rattle became louder, and louder, and then … stopped, the beat of my heart continued.
The nurse placed the stethoscope on his chest, turned to me, nodded, and pulled the sheet over the decrepit mound of wrinkled flesh. The sheet was taunt, like a smooth white log. I stared–too numb to speak. Now, looking back, reflecting on that moment, dying appeared to be as easy as falling off a log, unless you must watch, unless you care, and unless you do not know how to say good-bye to love.