Another year gone by, but still in my mind and in my heart
As quiet as I could I entered the room, my heart pounding heavily and stood at the foot of the bed. I had driven 130 miles per hour to be there on time, to see him, maybe talk to him. I looked at the machines and the tubes that lead from above the bed to his body. I saw his chest rise and descend with difficulty, almost struggling to breathe.
His face was severely damaged, black and blue and swollen from the smacks his body had endured. The old man tried to keep his eyes open, which was almost impossible due to the stitches right above them. A faint smile curved his lips when he recognized me. "It's you". The words gently passed his lips. I smiled back prudently. "Yes, it's me" as I sat down beside him on the bed, touching his wounded hand. Slowly he sunk away into a deep rest. No longer approachable. The high doses of pain killers made sure he slept as much as he could and suffered as little as possible from the damage his body suffered.
A tear appeared in the corner of his eye and slowly ran down his cheek. "This is not what I want". I understood what he was trying to say. He had been lying here in this bed for three days, surrounded by all these medical stuff. This was something he had always feared, this was something he would never have to go through. "If I catch this guy I'm going to kick the life out of him". His voice was filled with anger and grief at the same time. His face made a grimace, caused by the pain as he tried to sit up. "You can't kick at all now, pap". My fingers gently caressed his hands.
I felt the same rage that he did. The same anger as I thought about how he had been hit by a van four times. Caused by a driver who could have easily avoided this much damage. If only he would have looked why he couldn't back up, instead of making another three attempts. It took a witness to pull the guy out of his van, because she did see why he couldn't: he had hit somebody as he tried to back up the van.
His skin had lost its normal color, everything was blue, some places even black. It was clearly visible when the nurse came to check on his IV. The expression on her face said enough. She too radiated hardly any hope.
"I want to go home, Pat". It seemed as if the words passed his lips with even harder than before. I nodded in understanding. "I'll make the arrangements and talk with everyone" and I left the room to confer with the nurses and discuss it with the doctors and the family. He was allowed to go home. Go home, as there was nothing left that could be done for him. He knew. He knew very well he was going home to die.
Wednesday morning he went home. Relatives came by to see if they could take turns at his bedside. The ambulance personnel put him in his bed carefully.
Not everybody was there. One daughter didn't feel the urge to come if others were there and my mother was on holiday outside the country. My attempts and those made by my sister to get her home on time all failed. Her phone was turned off, unreachable.
By his side
I sat next to him, next to his bed. Holding his hand and resting my head next to his on the pillow. Not touching him any more than that so I couldn't cause any more pain. He mumbled a few sentences, almost unintelligible. Other relatives thought he was delirious. Delirious from the pain that ravaged his old body and because he had head injuries too. "What did you say, pap?"
There was a short sigh. "I want to go to Jane, to Jane". Carefully he turned his head towards me and the hazy look in his eyes told me everything I needed to know. "If you want to go to mama, then go; if you really want to go there, then don't stay here". I spoke words that cut me deep in my heart. Because going to ma meant that he wanted to die too; had given up hope and no longer wanted to fight as he had always done. "Yes, that's what I want, I'm hurting so badly". I tried to hold back the tears, but he saw and a tear ran down his cheek too.
His last words
But he hadn't finished speaking yet. "Will you keep reading the papers?" I knew what he meant. What sounded to others as complete nonsense sounded so familiar to me. After my divorce he always wanted me to find a good guy and he always advised me to check the personals in the newspaper. Sometimes he'd call me if he had seen one himself. He didn't want me to stay alone. Alone, like he had been in these last years after ma had passed away. "Yes, I'll keep looking, but not only in the newspapers. It's okay and I will be just fine. You can rest now, pap, rest well and go to Jane". He tried to cough, but coughing was already impossible. The strength he always had seemed to have vanished.
I gently kissed his cheek. My little sister kissed his cheek. As we closed the curtain separating the living from the bedroom we heard a deep sigh. For a moment we stood there waiting for the next sigh to come out and as the seconds and minutes passed we realized this next sigh would not come.
My sister and I drove home in silence. Searching for the words, not finding them, tears flowing almost endlessly. This was intensified by a song on the radio. "Now you're a star in heaven". Together we sat down on the patio. "You got any gin?" Smiling she looked at me. She knew what I was heading at. She poured two glasses. To the rim, the way he always wanted it. That was the way he used to drink them every day, enjoying every day.
Memories surfaced, one even better than the other. Some of these memories I put in writing, while sinking one glass after the other. With a smile we took one sip after another. Honoring him, remembering him and reliving every single moment that we had shared with him.
The words I had put in writing became a story, a poem. Filled with memories, his pranks, his laughs, his fears, his being. Memories we always used to share together, especially his pranks of which people often used to say that I had learned from him well. A story and a poem that were fit for his cremation. A cremation that was going to take place exactly the way he wanted it to, a goodbye in his spirit. Which was so important, especially now, because he hadn't been able to say goodbye to his life the way he had hoped for.
A sign for us
The next morning we went out early again. Say goodbye one more time and then go over the cremation with the family. As we rode into the village, my sister hit the brakes with all her might. We both saw it. In front of the car was a dove. Pap had loved doves and at his place there always was this couple of doves; waiting for him to put bread on the street outside, which they would eat greedily before flying back to the woods. Pap adored these birds. I remember a poem that I had written years before, as he was looking out of his window, watching ‘his' doves. A poem he liked and felt appropriate if he were to go on his final journey. And now it was his time.
We maybe stood there for at least five minutes. The dove wouldn't move and we didn't continue, didn't want to scare the animal off. All of a sudden a second dove appeared. Together they sat there in front of the car and my sister and I looked at each other, surprised but also smiling. To us this was a sign, a sign that it was ok now. He had joined her. And together the doves took off and we could continue our way.
Making arrangements for a last goodbye
Much to our disappointment we weren't allowed to see him again. Due to the warm weather and all the medication that was still in his body. In addition the police ha to release his body, now that it was considered to be a criminal act. The driver of the van had to appear in court. He was going to be charged with "homicide". Not by us, but by the district attorney. To us it had little value to sue him. It would not bring pap back.
Everything was arranged with the family quickly. I would do the talking, knew exactly how he wanted it, and had a different relationship with him than the rest of the family. One that didn't stop at being just relatives, but a relationship that had grown out into a special friendship.
On behalf of all the grandchildren, my son put a sunflower on his coffin. Those were the flowers he used to lighten up the neighborhood and he enjoyed it when they would grow high above him. On his coffin we placed a bottle of gin with a ribbon, "one for the road". He always said that he was afraid he'd get thirsty on his last trip. And so, symbolically, we gave him his favorite drink to take with him. And all who saw laughed, as he'd wanted, and recognized this as one of his many pranks. A beautiful picture of him in the old days with his horses and a picture of him with his shot glass in his hand completed it all.
Still in our hearts
The goodbye speech was difficult, even though it was filled with his jokes and pranks, the last words he would have wanted to say himself if he'd been able to say goodbye himself. Afterwards a drink together as a farewell. Toasting to his existence, what he had meant to us all and hoping he now was where he so much wanted to be.
Days were filled with tears of goodbye, laughing at memories and alcohol from the gin we had consumed together. Memories that made the loss of that day a little easier, that made the loss of a special person in our lives a little more bearable at that time. Memories that until today for two years made it easier when thinking of him. Not only did they remind us of the loss, but also about the happiness and joy we shared with him.
"Oh, and pap, if you are looking down you can see I have followed your advice. Too bad that you never got to meet him and for him to meet you."
Cheers, my good friend, we miss you.
You turned around, started talking
About how we were laying in the high grass
Eating all those peanuts together
And how good that time was
You watched the doves with tears in your eyes
Talked about dying, hoped it would happen soon for you
You didn't mind because you said' I'm old already'
‘There wasn't much here for you to do'
You talked about the last few years
The loneliness, the pain, the grieve
And you looked out of the window again
And minutes later you said
Will there be birds in heaven then?
Pap, sometimes like an untamable horse in the wild
Always with your heart on your sleeve
Today your doves will take you to heaven to be with mom
And you will feel no more grieve