The Last Day

A year gone by… Some start stories like this with, ‘I can’t believe a year has passed already.’ Nah… I feel the year gone by. I know it’s been a year – a strange, beautiful, transitional year… that you have not been around to experience with me.

When I showed up Saturday morning, after driving most of the night to get from Virginia to New Hampshire, I thought I was too late. You were so frail, so thin, a shadow of the man you used to be. Wires and tubes were connected to you, a machine tracing lines out of your heartbeat. Alice popped up, I think happy to see someone besides a nurse darken the doorway. And I tried to stay calm as I watched you sleep. This is the process of life. I’m not afraid that you’re dying – soon you won’t feel the pain of the cancer and you’ll be off on a new adventure, brightening another realm. And I accept that. Peppered with NO GODDAMN IT! IT’S NOT TIME YET! I’M NOT 40 YET! I’M NOT MARRIED TO THE LOVE OF MY LIFE, I DIDN’T MAKE IT AS A WRITER YET! I’m not ready to say goodbye.

Sometime in the afternoon you woke up, perked up and for 3 days, I got you back. We all giggled at your diet of tapioca laced with maple syrup, chocolate chip cookies and pretty much every flavor of sugar you could get your hands on. Hey – you’re dying! Why the heck not go out on a sweet note! We Skyped Deirdre on her birthday and sang Happy Birthday to her. You had never video chatted with her, so you were amazed at the ability to do so. Deirdre tried so hard to not cry, but we both felt the poignancy of the moment. I did Amitabha while you slept, and 7 Line Prayer as often as I could remember. I put a picture of Amitabha up in your room.

That morning came, when I had to go. I knew you didn’t want me to abandon my responsibilities at work. Even at the time, it felt stupid to choose a job I wasn’t very good at, didn’t get paid very well to do, and certainly not a job that was life and death dependent. It was a bittersweet decision. I was useless at your side – did you need another witness to your transition? Would my presence offer any comfort? Hard to say. The prayers were just as real from across the miles back in Virginia. But, the job would fire me 2 months later anyway. I might as well have stayed to ensure that the comfort was there.

I shook that morning, in disbelief that I was walking away from you. Every time I left the room with a load for the car to prepare for my departure came with it a fit of terrified shaking, uncontrollable tears and palpable anguish at this STUPID decision to leave your side. And yet, when the moment came to take ownership of this departure, you made it casual, even unceremonious – unlike any other goodbye we ever had. You were sitting in the chair next to your bed, eating a little tapioca and maple, and you informed me that you needed to make a bowel movement. I couldn’t help but giggle. I said that that was my cue to start heading down the road and went to get the nurse to get you to the bathroom. As they entered the room, I went to the doorway and made sure you saw me. I waved goodbye to you and you waved back, eyes wide and bright, the infamous Fred Laing smirk, like you’ve got the best secret ever and you’re not telling anyone.

And that was it!

You know those moments that are so surreal, the objects and shapes around you become so clear and sharp, you wonder if you’re in a dream or a cartoon? That’s what it felt like as I exited the hospital for the last time. The first hour of the 10 hour drive home found an aching in my body I had never felt before, but I knew the next 9 couldn’t be like that or I’d never make it back.

10 days later, I got my first email ever from Jetsunma, saying it was time to go. 8 hours later, while I was driving through Delaware, you left this world. That day didn’t hurt as much as this one did. By then, I had thoroughly accepted our shared fate.

Most days, nowadays, it doesn’t hurt to think about you. I love you and respect you and see more of you in me every day. I see you in the world I’m in and I find comfort there. Today, I will try to honor you, not commemorate you. Excessive emotion was never your thing… But… I miss you, Dad. I do really miss you.