I got there at 11:00 or so.
He was sleeping but woke to a “really good” day. I got talk to him as I would someone in perfect health.
With Mom nearby, I talked about my new business (“So proud of you”) and my family (“I love you more than you know”).
I showed JPEGs of their high school graduation photos (Dad graduated in 3½ years with commendations and played tennis; Mom was in the “Modern Dance Club” and “never served detention”).
We reminisced the stories he told so many times before, about the kid brother he lost 47 years earlier, about his parents.
Then he said matter-of-factly, “Sylvia, get me orange juice, I’m dying.” Mom scurried out the room.
“That was really funny, Dad,” I congratulated.
He gave me a crooked smile. “I know,” he winked.
I was, like, this guy is going to make me rewrite his eulogy! That was too funny not to include!
I called my wife. “He did it again. He is sitting up watching TV! He is never going to die!”
He hadn’t eaten in days and I was eating leftover yebrette (grape leaves), my favorite. I asked Mom if I could offer him some.
“Dad, you want a bite of yebrette?”
He shook no.
“It’s really good. I can cut it up.”
He mouthed “half.”
Mom coached me on the proper bite size. I dipped it in lemon and was surprised how far he opened his mouth. Once inside, the food immediately stung his mouth; he clenched his eyes shut in obvious pain.
I fished out the food and shortly thereafter he was asleep for six hours straight. The longer he slept, the more I feared I messed up. Would he would sleep through my “final goodbye?”
My sister Carolyn came over at night and, by that time, Mom was nervous. The “girl” hadn’t come yet, Dad was too far over on the bed and was “about to fall out of the bed,” how can we make sure that doesn’t happen, etc.
It was now 8:40 and I had a flight the next day. I had to leave and I didn’t want the commotion to get in the way of my goodbye.
I shut the door behind me, seeing my mother’s worried eyes saying, “Why are you shutting the door?” or “Why can’t I be in there with you?” I overheard my sister rationalize with her through the thin wall.
I sat on Dad’s bed and rested my forehead to his, my nose to his.
And God opened his eyes.
I don’t remember what I said exactly. And I wasn’t concerned about saying the perfect thing. I knew, this was the very last time I would see my father alive. I knew, when I left this room I would never hold him again in this lifetime.
I said, “I don’t cry as much as the others, but I’m gonna miss you. I’ll have you in my heart and in my mind.” I tapped my cranium. “I’ve got the Hage Brains,” a decades-old family joke.
I reminisced about his 25th anniversary party at Grandma’s house and recalled how he walked me down the aisle on my wedding day.
He lifted up his arms!
To hug me!
I was shocked, amazed, delighted, and grateful.
I fell to his chest, feeling his soft embrace for the last time. I kissed him repeatedly. He kissed me back.
“I love you.”
“I love you more,” he said.
“I have to go. I have a business trip tomorrow and I’m gonna earn all the money.”
He nodded. And as I rose to go to the door, I distinctly remember debating, do I turn around for one last wistful glance or is that too contrived? Then I thought, I don’t care how contrived it is, that’s my dad, and I’m walking away from him for the very last time.
So I turned.
And there he was, his eyes fixed on me, with a knowing look about the enormity of the moment.
He mouthed something, I genuinely don’t recall what, but it was something loving and affirming.
I nodded yes, turned, closed the door, and immediately welled up.
“I have to go,” I said to Mom and Carolyn, and wept.
They held me. Carolyn said it was ok to cry. Mom asked, “Wha’d he say?”
I said, “All you have to know is he lifted his arms to hug me,” breaking down again.
I hugged Mom, knowing I wouldn’t see her again until I got The Call. I was physically and emotionally exhausted.
I had no trouble falling to sleep that night.
:: Joe Hage is a storyteller for medical device marketing consultancy Medical Marcom ::