The Unexpected Goodbye

October 20, 2011

It doesn’t happen how you think it would: no Hollywood dramatization, no flatline buzz, no hectic rush, no noticeable change; except everything is suddenly different. The wheezing stops and along with it, a sharp throbbing pain from inside my own body begins. No relief is felt; only the steady, pounding, crushing wave of grief as I struggle to clear my mind against the chaos bubbling inside and pressing in around me.
Whispers echo through the tightly compressed room, bounce off pastel wall paper, and seep into the flower printed cushions. Each rhythmic, uneven gasp of breath seems to be a painstaking journey to a minuscule and pointless sense of relief. I kneel on the cold tile floor and grasp my father’s equally icy hand. Every last ounce of strength I thought I possessed seems to be leaving me. No longer attempting to choke back tears I gaze up at my fathers hollow and sunken eyes. His breathing slows, signaling a closer end than I had ever imagined. I take a deep unsteady breath and try to speak, knowing that I have to be the strong one.
My last words to my father force their way through my lips. Its okay, you can go now, we’ll be okay, you can go. His chest rises and shutters to a stop, the gasping no longer fills the room. Nothing feels real; theatrically my fingers rise up to my fathers face, settling high on his neck, just below the jawbone. They search for a pulse, any last throbbing sign of life, but none is found.
I turn to stand feeling weak but no longer being able to handle the proximity to the cold, lifeless corpse beside me. Life seems to blur for awhile, thoughts passing at a million miles an hour, and then nothing at all. Gliding from one embrace to another, exhaustion surrounds me, but is overcome by endless raw emotion.
Finally some sort of comprehension returns and my mind settles into a steady steam of flashbacks. My father trying to help me during arts and crafts at an Indian Princess Meeting, before being hurried away by a 3’6” five year old me, because he was “messing it up” and “I [could] do it myself.” Dad, ironically trying to teach typing to my second grade class, while he was a notorious two-finger-typer himself. My father picking me up in the middle of the day for a surprise 13th birthday lunch, and me striding out of the cafeteria like I was on top of the world, or at least the envy all of my peanut butter and jelly eating peers.
I come back to reality as I step outside into the warm sunshine to clear my head. I feel cold, a kind of unsettling chill that comes from within. The heat only barely penetrates the surface of my skin. A breeze sifts through the rose garden and I shiver as it passes over me. Arms wrap around me, but don’t register who it is, my mind still a rush of grief and worry as I run through possible future situations that now are missing a main character. My father, no longer beside me as I walk down the aisle; an empty chair at my high school graduation; taken from me as a young teenager and forever lost to cancer.
I think back over the past few months, from when both my father and I came down with the usual winter cough, to the monumental Thursday night we realized his “cold” was something more. My thoughts glide over the ironic birthday-gift diagnosis two short months before and settle on a steady beat of small moments; visiting nights in the hospital, consoling cards from my classmates, getting the call that daddy was finally coming home to our temporarily transformed TV room now with the help of hospice an at-home hospital. Coming back into the moment the familiar arms, still around my shoulders, guide me away from where I stand, moving me towards the car, towards reality, towards my future.
Blair Ballard