“It’s the emptiest and yet the fullest of all human messages: ‘Good-bye.’” ― Kurt Vonnegut
It was June 30th. The phone rang, I think it was in the morning. Mom was on the other end. Dad had been out on the tractor, cutting the front field with the bush hog and he stopped, came in the house and said he needed to go to the hospital. She was there, now. We needed to come down.
Between the tone of her voice, and the fact that it was Dad that said he needed to go in (Dad only went to any health care provider when it was absolutely necessary) I knew that this was the phone call I had been dreading.
For months, anytime the phone rang I was on edge. Especially when it rang at strange times in the night. Which had been happening a lot. Jordy had a brother who had a tendency to call whenever he had any sort of problem, which seemed to be all the time.
I got off the phone and told Jordy we had to go. Jordy’s dad showed up about then. There was another problem with her brother. Her dad wanted her help in dealing with it. They left together.
I called my friend, Cole. I asked him if he could stop in at the hospital and check on Mom. It was a big ask. He was at work, I believe, but said no problem. He went right down to the hospital.
I got into the shower. My legs wouldn’t hold me so I sat and let the water wash the tears away almost as quickly as they fell.
There could be no crying when I arrived at the hospital. I needed to be strong for Mom and Dad. It was going to be brave face time.
I got ready. Packed for both of us. When Jordy a got back we left.
The drive down was long. I couldn’t imagine what it felt like for my brother and sister coming all the way from BC and England.
In the hospital it was clear that it was a waiting game.
Waiting for someone to die is a horrible thing. Torn between a relentless hope for a miracle—not wanting to say good-bye, not wanting to let go—and not wanting to see a person you love suffer any longer. It begins to feel like a dream. Perhaps nightmare would be more applicable—but a paralysing one, not one that leaves you jumpy.
Dad was kept well-medicated and was asleep for much of it.
It was Jordy, Mom and I with Dad most of the time.
My phone rang. I left the room and went outside. It was another friend, Crystal Burs, from the St. Lawrence Centre, about the delayed housewarming/Canada day party Jordy and I had planned. I’d forgotten all about it. I explained to her what was going on. She asked if there was anything she could do. I said, no. She asked if I wanted her to contact everyone she knew that was coming over. I hadn’t thought of that.
“Yes,” if you don’t mind, I said.
Years later l found out that she moved the party to her place, quietly without a fuss, or saying much to anyone. It was a great kindness.
The hospital gave us the room at the end of the hall, that had two twin beds in it, a living room and little kitchen area.
The nurses were great.
The night was long.
We would take turns being with Dad.
Mom and Jordy went to get some rest.
I sat in a chair on the far side of his bed, where I could look across to the door of the room. I can’t recall if it was open or closed, I think partly open because I remember there being some light in the room, more than would have come in from the street lights outside the large window behind me.
Dad was asleep.
I held his hand.
It was in the wee hours of the morning when I said, “I love you, Dad.”
“I love you, too, Colin.”
I was taken aback.
I didn’t think he was awake.
It’s the only time I recall that we said the words, I love you, to each other.
Nothing more was said after. Nothing more was needed.
The next day three different ministers came to see Dad. Reverend Pat, who had joked with Dad the last time he was in the hospital, back in March, was away, otherwise it would have been four.
If there’s anything to religion, I thought, Dad’s definitely got an in.
Cole stopped by.
He smuggled in some rum in a water bottle.
We mixed a couple drinks.
We had to keep Dad’s mouth wet by using sponges soaked in water.
Dad didn’t respond when we’d do it.
I looked at my cup of rum and coke.
I looked at Dad.
“I wonder,” I said.
I took one of the sponges and dipped it in my libation.
I put the sponge in Dad’s mouth.
He suckled on it like a babe at the nipple.
When he finally released I took the sponge out.
“How was that, Dad?” I asked.
“That was gooooood,” he said, adding a few extra o’s to good.
Mom came around to his side. She kissed him on the lips.
Dad kissed her back, again. And he was out once more.
Dad’s nephew Don arrived and stayed for some time.
Dad was awake again at some point. Briefly. We asked if there was anything we could do.
“Yeah, shoot me,” he said.
It was almost a joking tone. But there was something to it and it was hard to hear.
Being a farmer, Dad took a more practical, they shoot horses, don’t they?, approach to extreme suffering.
I don’t think Mom, or Jordy, were in the room, when he said it.
We got him more meds.
He was out again.
The minister who was replacing Reverend Pat, came in.
She stood over the bed and read Psalm 23.
Despite all the medication he was on, Dad awoke and recited it with her, from heart.
I hadn’t realised until that point just how much Dad’s faith meant to him. He, like most Christians (not the one that get most of the press, mind you), did as Christ had commanded, prayed behind closed doors, living more than speaking his faith through helping others and trying not to judge. Taking a live and let live attitude towards life.
Mom came round to the side of the bed, again.
As she leaned over Dad and he lifted his head off the pillow to meet her descending lips. I think they kissed, three times. Three quick kisses. But it may have been only the one long one.
“I love you,” Mom said.
“I love you,” Dad said.
She placed her forehead against his.
Mike and his family met Trish in Toronto and they all came down together. We had to decide before that though about increasing Dad’s dosage. He was resting, but not comfortably.
More meds would end, or dull, his pain—there’s no way to know which, for sure—but he wouldn’t be awake by the time they arrived. I felt that that was their decision to make not mine. They did. We increased the meds.
By the time they arrived Dad was basically in a drug induced coma.
The kids said their good-byes and then Mike’s wife, Charlette, and Jordy took them to the Canada Day fireworks display in Delhi park.
The fireworks could be seen from Dad’s window. His country celebrated its birthday outside his window while he lay dying.
Realty too intense becomes a surreal experience. I think I became slightly detached, watching everything happening, a story unfolding, a film on a screen, I was struggling to stay apart of myself.
The fireworks finished. Jordy returned and Charlette took the kids home.
It was nearing midnight. I don’t know when the last time I sept was. I went to lay my head down. I nodded to my brother to come out of the room.
“What do you think about the oxygen on Dad?” I asked.
“I think it’s helping him breath,” he said.
“That’s my point,” I said.
“I’ll talk to the nurse,” he said.
My head had barely hit the pillow when Jordy came and got me.
At five past midnight, surround by family, Dad departed.
I never saw Dad show the slightest bit of fear. It was one of the bravest things I’ve ever seen. Perhaps, the bravest.
I don’t think he was confident in heaven, faith is contingent on doubt after-all, but if we have a maker Dad had no fear in meeting his. And if it was oblivion he faced he was content with the life he’d lived and what he was leaving behind. His day was done. It was his time to rest.
Mike told me I was right about the oxygen. I felt that wasn’t something I wanted or needed to know. Had I helped end Dad’s pain, or robbed him of a few more precious moments? There’s no way to know which, for sure.
As hard as it is to remember the time in the hospital I could never bring myself to try and forget. Regardless of the pain and confusion, it was the last time Dad was with us—in the physical sense.
I think of what Kurt Vonnegut said, “Until you die . . . it’s all life.”
I have a tendency to agree.