Santa Barbara, CA, Sept, 2014.
We were naughty girls, the three of us. The nurse from hospice told us to keep him in bed, but he wanted to go outside, wanted to feel the sun on his face and admire the plumeria that were potted and in bloom on his back patio. My father wanted to look out across the city he loved to the Pacific Ocean and sip the salty air.
He had two oxygen cannulas by then, and still he struggled. The tumors that held his lungs hostage did their best to squeeze the life from him, allowing only one shallow breath at a time. Leave him in bed, the nurse told us, but she didn't know us. She didn't know how desperately, after all the fatherless years without him, we still wanted to please our dad, to show him love and hope for its return.
So we took him. We wheeled my father onto the back porch and sat with him, admiring him admire the view. I remember that his eyes seemed tired--sparkling and blue, but tired. They were distant eyes, but they always had been. Sitting in that California sun, it struck me that he was the man who wasn't supposed to die. Not ever. He had told us so when we were little, promising he'd live past 100. "Just wait and see," he'd say with a knowing smile.
He wouldn't live that long ... because he really was dying. Stupid cancer robbed him of at least 27 years, according to his earlier calculations. Stupid, life-robbing cancer.
My sisters and I sat with him, listening to a symphony of windchimes tickle the air. I put a fallen blossom behind his left ear, securing it with a few strands of his silvery hair. He looked at us, one at a time, a weak but steely smile on his face. "Thank you, girls" he said. "Thank you."
This man. This man who sat so near to me, yet so far away. This man on a late September morning in 2014. All the moments of my childhood collapsed inward then, and I felt tears hot and close. I wiped them away roughly. Too many emotions. Too many things left unsaid. "Thank you," he said again, softer this time. He closed his eyes. Was he speaking to us? I didn’t know, still don’t. Perhaps it was to life itself. "Thank you."
Miss you, Dad. Thank you for continuing to visit me.