This post is about my father’s death. Please skip this if you feel it might be upsetting.
In my last post I told you that my mother and father had three children between them. My father had three more children with Sofie. (My mother had one child with my step-monster. Yes. That is what I call him. And that, too, is a story for another day.) We’ll call these children Maribel, Martin, and Melody.
It was Saturday, and we knew Dad would be gone soon. His hands and his feet and legs were purple. He was six feet tall, but he looked so small there on the hospital bed. A cheerful little Dixie cup with orange juice and a cotton swab was on the bedside table. We would bathe the inside of his mouth with the cotton swab in an effort to relieve him of a thirst he could no longer complain of.
We took turns being in the bedroom with him. Sometimes it might be Maribel and me. Sometimes it was Martin or Melody or Sofie.
Have you ever read, in a book or a poem, about the “smell of death”? I know what the smell of death is. It is a body that can only be “washed” with sponges. It is little white morphine pills. It is abandoned Dixie cups. It is cancer breath from a mouth that hangs open all the time. It’s the sweat and fear and grief of the people who are about to be left behind.
(There is a part of this story that is important. I started to write it out, but I realize I can’t talk about that, not publicly. Some things are not mine to tell, and you’ve gotta protect the innocent.)
Sofie came out of the bedroom.
“It’s time,” she said. “it’s happening.”
We all gathered at the edge of my father’s bed. The “fish breathing” had begun. He would take a deep shuddering breath and then there would be a long, long pause before he would take another. The breaths came fewer and farther between, and then they stopped, and he was gone. I tried to close his eyes, but it’s a lot harder in real life than they make it seem on television or in the movies.
Afterward, Maribel and I sat vigil with his body.
“I heard you singing to him yesterday,” she said.
“Oh,” I responded, “I didn’t realize anyone was listening.”
“I think he was.”
“Maybe. I hope so.”
Then they came and took him away.