My father died on March 18, 2014.
His friends created a book of poems and tributes for him.
The following is a forward I wrote for the book.
A Restless Farewell
March 13, 2014, 6:00pm
It’s quite possibly happening, the death of my father. I’ve thought of this many times. I’ve been close with him and the dance of death more than once. It never changes, this feeling of fear for the finite fact of life.
March 16, 2014, 10:00pm
Audio hallucinations started last night. He’s dying. Slowly. Respiratory failure. Those of us on the outside equate it to drowning. Lungs fill with fluid, inflammation causes interstitial tissue damage and his body can’t fight it much longer. With the help of morphine his brain will not think it’s lacking oxygen. He will hallucinate much like the climbers of K2. The high-flow oxygen that’s gently forcing his airway to stay open keeps him alive.
I was the one who had to explain this to him earlier in the day.
“Your lungs are filling with scar tissue. The oxygen… The amount of oxygen you need to stay alive is only available in the hospital.”
He stared at me, I could see confusion behind his thick glasses. He said, “Right. I can stay here forever. Unless it’s money. If it’s money, I won’t stay alive. I won’t bankrupt you two.”
My sister, stoic with a patience perfect and elegant, nodded and smiled. She had done so much already. It was my turn to put on a face.
“When the steroid treatment is over then we will know,” I said.
“But if they don’t work, I stay here. Like I said. In the hospital. I like this room. I’m comfortable.”
My sister started to cry.
Memories of our trips to Mexico and Canada flashed before me as the words, “The doctors aren’t hopeful”, passed across my lips. He might have cried at that moment.
March 18, 2014, Sunrise.
The waiting room looks out over the city of San Francisco. A Heron cuts the skyline as the sun rises. The tragic beauty of this moment gives me the courage to face a decision every son who loves his father fears most.
My two sisters, my cousin and I held hands in a circle around his bed when the oxygen was turned off. We cried over him while he took his last breaths. I can’t remember who closed his eyes for him.
I read once that a son truly becomes a man only when he loses his father. Maybe. I feel different, more alone in the world but not more manly.
At the time of death there is no fault. All of us will cross that threshold one way or another. I held his hand, told him he was not alone and that I loved him. For that I’m grateful.
The day a loved one dies — especially one who was close — is heart wrenching. We must come to terms with death at some point in our lives. Thinking that my father is somewhere other than where I am at this moment provides comfort. However, in the words of Iris DeMent, I think I’ll just let the mystery be.