Phone Home

Growing up with nine siblings is an experience that most don’t get to have. Ten kids makes for a rowdy bunch. Full of piss and vinegar. Loyal to one another. Protective of one another. Over the top dramatic and outspoken and loud and boisterous. All these things we get from our mother. She is funny. Quick to laughter. Always ready with a tune. Can sing the wrong words to any song. Dad was always the somber one. Always encouraging us to be more soft spoken. Secretly reveling in our lust for life. Whenever it was Dad’s birthday or Father’s Day or Anniversary, we kids would always put on a program for him. That was his favorite thing. He loved drama club as a teenager and young adult and never really lost that love for it throughout his life. We would sing and dance and tell jokes and Dad ate it up. It was the one time when our silliness wasn’t shushed down. As Dad’s illness has progressed, the siblings have taken turns going and staying with Mom and Dad to help out with his needs. It’s something that is too much to handle for Mom on her own. A few weeks back as one of my sisters left to return to her home, she sent out an email to the family stating that if we wanted to have a reunion and have Dad be able to attend then we needed to do it before our normally scheduled reunion next year. Once the dates had been set and travel arrangements had been made, Mom told Dad, “The kids are coming home and we’re going to have a reunion.” Dad was ecstatic. His first question was, “Will there be a program?” Mom assured him that of course there would be a program, and then she let us know of his request. In true family fashion, we put on one epic program for him. He couldn’t do much more than lie on the couch during the program, but he was grinning from ear to ear. It was the biggest sign of life that I’ve seen in him since he finished his chemo. That was almost three weeks ago. It’s also three weeks longer than I expected him to be alive. Watching him during the reunion after the program had happened, he looked suddenly worn and tired. It seemed to be the thing that he needed to have happen before he could say his final goodbyes. The reunion seemed to symbolize the end for the siblings. No plans for visits had been made beyond that point. Hospice has been there each day during the week, and my baby brother has flown in each weekend. This past weekend, though, he had to work so the baby sister came in. She was scheduled to leave Monday. I got a text from her on Sunday night saying that Dad was really having bad death rattles and she was sick and nauseous thinking about having to leave the next morning. We texted back and forth for quite awhile when she finally told me she had cancelled her flight and called off at work and would be here for the week. I breathed a huge sigh of relief. I expected to receive a call Monday morning saying that he had passed away during the night, but that didn’t happen. He woke up Monday morning and said, “It’s going to be a wonderful day!” So I headed home. The moment I got off work I hopped in the car and made the drive down to see them. I knew I would only be able to stay for a little while, but I felt like I had to see him and say goodbye. It’s a weird sensation. Seeing your dad and knowing that it’ll probably be the last time. I sat by his side and held his hand. He would close his eyes just for a moment, but then open them really quick and just look into my eyes, as if he were trying to tell me all the things that are in his heart, but not quite having the strength to do so. He can’t speak above a whisper. All he can do is hold my hand and look at me. After a while he says, “I want to go home.” I ask if he’d like to go to bed and rest. He asks where is his bed. I tell him it’s just down the hall. He says that yes, he’d like to go to his bed. So my sister and I help him into his wheelchair and into his bed and take up residence at his side again. Mom is there. Two of my daughters are there. My son in law is there. None of us really know what to say or do. So we sit until he tells us he wants to close his eyes. It’s time for me to head home so I take his hand and hold it for a moment, not really knowing what to say. I kiss his cheek, tell him I love him, tell him that I will take care of Mom and that he is not to worry about her. He gives me the thumbs up and says, “Good.” I turn to leave the room and stop at the door, realizing that I haven’t said it. I haven’t said what I drove two and a half hours to say. “Goodbye, Dad.”  “Goodbye.” he whispered back. Then I turned and walked away. I don’t know what the night will bring. I don’t know what kind of phone call I’ll get when I wake up in the morning. I do know that even though I have braced for this for a long time, this was one of the most difficult goodbyes that I’ve ever uttered.

Mom and Dad watching the program.

Mom and Dad watching the program.

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