Gracing the cover of the latest AARP magazine is seventy-nine year old Clint Eastwood. Like my father, Clint turns 80 next May. But these men of identical vintage couldn’t be further apart in terms of aging. One is still active and vital while the other rests quietly in his Depends, in a recliner protected by a wet-proof quilted liner. How can this be?
Yesterday’s visit with Daddy was not really a visit. Jon and I mostly watched Dad sleep or fight off sleep. Dad could not keep his eyes open nor could he fully partake of his Tuesday ritual highlight of listening to my sister’s voice. Yesterday, when I handed Daddy the phone, Daddy nodded a couple of times in response to whatever Christi said, but he couldn’t muster up the strength to speak or even listen for very long, sure signs that something more than tiredness was going on with Daddy.
Daddy now floats in and out of bad days and not-so-bad days. But nothing like a good day has really been part of Daddy’s life since… well, July, maybe. April? Before Mom’s stroke?
Watching all of this from his bed, Daddy’s roommate asked when Daddy became ill. Larry’s good question deserved a good answer. I wish I had one. But instead, I muddled through the dark tunnel of events in hope that Larry might glean the answer he sought. Larry seemed satisfied with my sorry attempt, nodding his head in understanding. All I could do was recite the litany of events that made up Daddy’s last six months of life. And wish I had a different story to tell.
I also wished I had my camera to capture the final story told between my brother and father yesterday. But the moment was gone before I could grab my cell phone. So I’ll do my best to draw a few lines of words, knowing I’ll never be able to fully color the image these two made, because it was one of those moments that play out without need of words.
It began with Daddy sending us off with his same gentle curled finger goodbye; if Daddy had bells in his hand, his waving motion would send sweet tinkles to flutter in the air. Soft as butterfly wings in flight, yesterday Daddy’s wave grew tentative; as if fingers knew that heart was not yet ready to spread its wings and fly solo. I watched Dad’s fingers still. Then quickly changing course, Dad’s fingers curled against his palm and loosening his index finger, Dad’s one finger began to wiggle back and forth, summoning his only son over for a fatherly conference.
Dutifully, and likely with a quick prayer to decipher Dad’s urgent message to come, Jon bent his tall body down to my father and rested his ear near Daddy’s mouth. Daddy had so little energy, he didn’t have the strength to string his normal shaky slurred whispers together. Within a few seconds, Dad relaxed and gave up the battle for words.
Yet. My brother did not withdraw. Instead, Jon tenderly cradled Dad’s head against his own with his right hand, and said without words — it’s all right Daddy. I’m here. I love you. And I know that you love me too. And I wish our time could end differently, but this is who we are and where we are. And it’s okay.
But it really wasn’t okay. Jon left with tears in his eyes yesterday. And I sit writing these few lines with tears in my eyes. And I wish a better end for you Daddy. I wish your almost eighty year old life could end like Clint.