The Final Days
Tuesday, November 28, 2006 2:00 p.m.
Death eludes him once again as the afternoon sun glistens through the autumn-colored trees just outside his bay window. He doesn't look out that window anymore as he had many, many times. The walloping of the Chinook blades that pierce the silence cause a brief grin as they always have in the years he has lived in the path of the Chinook training facility at Ft. Rucker. Another sound was heard. The sound of son-in-law, Brian's, piano magic brings a different smile to his face. A peaceful smile, one where talent is recognized and appreciated. Granted the smile was a short-lived, but a smile nonetheless. At this point in my father's life, I would gladly take that little smile.
Here I sit, at his side, listening to his shallow breathing wondering, yet again, if this breath will be his last. The cancer has consumed him now and it is only a matter of time. Being the oldest of his children and one who lives only twelve minutes away, I took the responsibility to be at his side as often as I could. Today, I find myself in the midst of love. Here, the woman he has loved for twenty-eight years lies next to him - he in his hospital bed, her in the bed they shared for years - her hand slips gently under his blanket to find his ... together they rest in peacefulness, if only for a moment. The ever-present Chinook flying overhead, Brian's music playing gently through my laptop ... gives them another moment. I sat quietly embraced by her love for him as he continues to slowly slip from her grip. But not quite, not yet. A husky cough found its way out of Dad's mouth, one of Sandy's eyes opens briefly to check on him. She knows I am here, I hope she finds comfort in that.
Not only is there the love of these two special people, but the ever-present pets ... two cats lie with Sandy oblivious to the impending sadness that is to come. There are dogs, almost too many to count, each lying on the floor in his place around my father.
All of a sudden, there is movement from my father's bed. His hand struggling to find an escape from the blanket twisted around him, tucking him securely into a cocoon of comfort. I pause to assist his hand whose goal it is to find his lip. "Ice?" he whispers. I respond quickly to place an ice chip into his waiting mouth. He relishes in the soothing feeling of the ice melting into submission as it slides down his parched throat. Then, a barely audible sound, "Thank you," he says, remembering the manners taught to him by his mother as a toddler. Sleep comes once again.
The air in the room has a hint of spearmint or maybe it's peppermint, no menthol from the hydrating lip balm she had put on his lips. Pleasant, anyway. The hum of my laptop, Brian's music, the next-in-line Chinook, and the rhythmic breathing of the various beings present in this room overcome the question of when death will take him away. It's a question he often asks like we'll have some magical answer, something he can obey. The answer doesn't come and his disappointment melts into sleep once again.
A cloud passes robbing the room of its sunlight and lends an air of doom, but alas, the sun returns and the room fills with warmth and hope again. Sleep continues to hug this exceptional couple and another cloud darkens the room. There is a gentle breeze blowing outside. A particularly large leaf tapped on the window alerting the two half-sleeping Siamese cats. One actually rose to see what had had the nerve to awaken him. His curiosity didn't last as he collapsed only inches from his original cozy spot and dozed off.
The ice chips I had given Dad had come back to haunt him with an uncomfortable feeling and a little groan left his lips. I immediately rose to console him, but he had already lapsed into sleep, the discomfort gone.
I wonder why I felt inclined to write today. I thought to myself the reason and decided it was very simple. For many of my siblings being here is nearly impossible. I am here for them as our father reaches the end of his life, I am here for them ... and for him.
Another plea from my father, "Rub my ankles, please?" Again, I promptly position myself to his feet where I could rub his ankles. "Higher," he says, then moans happily as my caress brings comfort to his calves and shins. A smile comes to his lips and his eyes close as sleep overtakes him once again.
I love you, Dad ... I'll see you tomorrow. He responds with what has become his common response, "I hope not."
~ Written by Elizabeth Dent Wyse
NOTE: Dad died quietly at home with his wife, Sandy, at his side on November 30, 2006.