Thursday, November 2
My dad dies at 10:15 in the morning. My mother is asleep next to him with her hand on his arm. The cat is lying on his legs, purring loudly. My sister is sitting in my dad’s wheelchair next to the bed. And I am standing next to her.
I was on my way out the door to take some magazines to the recycling bin when she called, “Linda, don’t go! I think he’s going…” He had been taking those long breaths followed by longer and longer silences. Just about the time I would think, he’s gone, there would be a startling catch in his throat and he would take a long gasp.
His head was tipped back and his mouth was opened at that unnatural angle that I see so often in the dead when I am working in the hospital. –As if he is frozen in the act of taking a large gulp of air.
My sister, like her father, is a scientist: an organized, problem-solving, critical thinker. A few minutes earlier when he took one of those long, gasping breaths she set her phone to work as a stop watch. I watch the numbers change so quickly, they can only be tenths and hundredths of seconds. To the left the numbers climb more slowly until at 6 minutes I say, “He’s gone, Nan.”
The odd thing about death is that nothing changes. The cat is still purring, my mother is still sleeping, my sister and I are still waiting. Everything–and nothing–has changed. He is gone and the world goes on.
Friday, November 3
Mom was up and down all night last night. I would be watching tv and I would hear the scratchy shuffle of her calloused feet on the carpet. I would look up and there she was at my elbow, looking confused.
I would walk her back to her bed, lightly stroking her back and help her into bed. Early on, I offered to sleep with her. She said, no, I didn’t have to do that.
The second or third time as she climbed back into bed I heard her say to herself, “I just have to get used to it.”
The last few times, as she put her head down on the pillow, she would say, “Now, where is Nan?”
“She is home sleeping. She will be back in the morning.”
Then, later, again, “Where’s Nancy?”
“Nancy is at home, sleeping. She will be back in the morning.”
“And where is Linda?”
“I’m Linda, Mom. And I’m right here. I’m not leaving.”
The last time I helped her back into bed and tucked the blanket around her chin, she said, “Do I have everything together?”
“Yes, Mom, you have it all together. You can sleep now. I’m right here.”
Sunday, November 5
The time changed last night. We “fell back” an hour.
My mother is still in bed, sleeping, I hope. –Although she has this habit of lying in bed with her beautiful, startlingly blue eyes open, looking at the ceiling and doing, I don’t know what.
I awoke in the night and realized I had slept several hours uninterrupted. Even that much sleep makes a difference in the morning when I wake again. I get up because I am cold. How I can be cold in an apartment which is kept at 75 degrees is a mystery. I don’t try to solve the mystery, I just take a hot shower in what was Dad’s bathroom and lay down on the love seat and stare at the ceiling.
Nan and I both feel Dad’s presence in the apartment, as if he is still here with us. I don’t think Mom feels that way. I think it comes at her in waves: lifting her on the crest of realizing his absence–then dropping her into a trough of forgetfulness. Night seems to be the hardest time. She is like a small boat unmoored and she will ask, “Where’s Dad?” “What happened?” “Are we going home tomorrow?”
Nan and I are ruthless, I suppose. When she asks we answer, “He is at the funeral home.” “His heart failed.” “This is home, Mom.”
–“No it’s not,” she said fiercely, once, last night. She’s right. This is not her home. Not really. Their home is gone. Her husband is gone. Their old pets are gone. Many of their friends are gone.
And the world rolls on.
The clocks don’t stop. Time doesn’t skip a beat. We fall “back.” But “Back” is not a direction time and life recognize. They move relentlessly forward and we are carried with them, like boats, unmoored, carried on their waves.