June 2018. I process the jumbled, nighttime collage of dream images and plant my feet on the floor. Leaving town in three hours. So much to do. I tell myself that if I don’t see him, there will be another day. Visits are no longer conversations. They are silent kisses and quiet whispers.
Two months ago, things were better. Conversations more frequent if, sometimes jumbled. Interspersed with words spoken to family and friends long past. An April birthday celebration of fantastic clarity and dialogue. I wanted it to be a miracle portending more time. I’ve read about reality. One last rally of brain, breath, and love. I decided that day, it’s was a miracle. Tomorrows are for truth.
The truth is that we are tethered, one passing day at a time. I don’t want to un-tether, but I am leaving town. I must see him. In the vast spectrum of nightmares that have haunted my life, the worst living nightmare, would be to not say goodbye. To not have whispered one last time, “I love you, dad”.
I do everything I can to be the loving scientist. To understand and predict the moment so I can be at his bedside. I am driven to know what to expect. To understand the wind-down process. Research every symptom, vital sign, and change in skin color. Look for academic precision in predicting the end as if that will tell me something the six senses do not. The sixth is brutal. It comes from the heart.
Three months ago, there were machine-gun like moments of conversation and clarity. Six months, one of our family dinners at his favorite restaurant. My emotions don’t understand how that has transitioned to this day. Hoping for one more whisper.
I walk across the street, to his apartment. A journey, that each day is more liked fighting through quicksand. The guilt of not leaving five minutes earlier. An hour. The anticipatory self-flogging for not staying long enough.
His long-time companion answers the door. We hug. She’s been crying. She is a rock. An angel. By his side every awful moment I am spared when I walk out that door and traverse that twenty-five yards back to my safe haven of distractions.
Is he eating? Has he said anything? I don’t want to hear what I already know. The morphine gives the answers but I have to ask. I have to. I have to.
I place my right hand on his wrist. Passing the warmth of my hand to his. I can feel his coldness gradually take hold as the blood flow directs itself to vital organs so I can have one more day. The skin is fragile. A razor-thin membrane stretched across a drum. The mottling. The blue fingertips. No need to ask. I have done my homework. If I were a casual acquaintance, I would not recognize him. The caregiver senses my pain. She puts her hand on my shoulder and reassures that the body releases endorphins to compensate for wasting. He is not in pain. I put my mouth to his left ear.
“I’m leaving for New York today dad.”
“It’s ok to let go, dad. It’s time.”
“Your sons will take care of each other. You did a great job. You taught us to take care of each other like you and your brothers.”
I pull back my head. We are in a time/space vacuum. No nurses. No ambient noise of any type. I am five years old. We are tethered. We always have been. I stand up and bend over him. I squeeze his wrist and whisper. “I love you dad”
His eyes are closed but his lips almost imperceptibly part as if, preparing to whistle.
“I love you, Brian.”
My dad did not speak to me again. He passed ten days later. We each got our last whisper.