She walked into the room and she knew, she had never seen death before but the smell of death permeated the room. As she got to the side of her father’s bed, she noticed that he had been stripped of all his clothing, the middle of his torso was covered with a bed sheet, he was lying vertically across the bed and his legs were dangling over the side. Her step-mother woke her up a few moments ago and said “wake up your father says he’s having a heart-attack but he doesn’t want me to phone the ambulance.” Standing over her father, she knew this was bullshit, his flesh was a shade of grey she had never seen before, his breathing was very shallow and the smell that filled her nostrils clearly told her that the end was near. She knew that even if her father wanted to die, it was more natural to want to live and no human being wanted to be lying in their own filth barely breathing and in pain. Slowly she turned to her step-mother, resisting the urge to scream, and said in a very calm but commanding voice “phone the ambulance now.”
Her mind was racing as she was standing over her father, how come the ambulance wasn’t called, how long had her father been lying like this, questions, questions, questions running through her mind. Her mind was so pre-occupied that she barely heard it but when she focused again on her father, his lips were moving. She bent down as close as she could and he said “where is Theresa?” “I’m right here Dad,” she said. She grabbed his hand and held on and she felt a tiny bit of pressure as her father squeezed her hand and through his shallow breathing she heard what was barely a whisper – “I love you more than you know.” “I love you too Dad” she said staring at him in utter disbelief. She looked up and saw that her father’s wife had entered the room and was watching the scene. Theresa found it strange that her father did not ask about his wife, he asked the whereabouts of his daughter and made sure she knew that he loved her but never did he ask for his wife.
It seemed to take forever for the ambulance to arrive but finally they arrived and put an oxygen mask over her father’s face, rolled him onto a stretcher and rushed him into the ambulance. Theresa and her step-mother raced to the car and were about to leave for the hospital when her step-mother suddenly stopped the car and asked Theresa to go inside and get a change of clothes for her father because he would need clothes for when he came home from the hospital. Theresa was a little perplexed because it was very obvious to her that father was not coming home. Rather than waste time arguing, Theresa just did as she was asked – she went back to her father’s bedroom quickly put an outfit together for her father and rushed back to the car.
They arrived at the hospital where Theresa was greeted by one of the ambulance attendants and he came rushing up to her and said “your father looked good as we brought him in, he was talking, he seemed better.” Theresa stood there and stared at the man, what a stupid thing to say to a daughter of a man who is obviously dying. Rather than say what she thought, she kept walking. They were ushered into a private waiting room and Theresa was waiting for the inevitable announcement that her father was dead. It couldn’t have been any more than 30 minutes before the doctor appeared and told her and her step-mother what Theresa already knew – her father was gone. Her step-mother immediately started to yell “what am I going to do” and then sobbed. Theresa was prepared to be told that her father was dead and she calmly asked the doctor if she could see her father. As they walked into the emergency room and she approached the bed where her father now lay, she could see that his skin was now a blue/purple colour and he looked very puffy. Even though the doctor told her he was dead she had to be certain. She no longer felt his presence and from behind her she could hear her father’s wife crying. One of the hospital workers pointed to a ring her father was wearing on his right hand and said that the ring was very tight-fitting but they would try to get the ring off in one piece and if they succeeded who should they give the ring too? Before her step-mother could speak Theresa spoke for her brother. “That ring belongs to my brother.” Her step-mother went to say something but Theresa interrupted her and said ” Dad told me last night that if he should die, he wanted my brother to have this ring.” Dad had been wearing that ring since he was seventeen years old and now his son was about to turn seventeen years old and last night her father mentioned the irony of his son being seventeen, the same age his mother gave him the ring. Now standing at the edge of the hospital bed where her father now laid, she was prepared to lurch anyone who dared to take the ring – it belonged to her brother, her father made that clear.
As her memory raced back to the night before, Theresa was now certain that something was different about her father. He spoke of so many things he had never spoken to her about. He spoke about the reasons and ramifications of his divorce to her mother ten years earlier, he spoke of his recent troubles at work, his time spent in the Navy during the war and he spoke of his love for all of his children. She realized now that this was God’s gift to her – her last moments with her father. She felt closer to her father that night than she ever had and now standing by her father’s body demanding that her father’s wishes be kept regarding his ring she looked down at the bag she was holding and she felt angry.
All the while waiting in the hospital room to hear of her father’s impending death, she was holding that stupid bag and now as she looked down she could see the brown loafer shoes, the brown dress pants and the checkered sweater she quickly grabbed at the insistence of her father’s wife. Theresa knew her father wasn’t coming home and she angrily thought as she listened to the howl of his wife “how could she not get he was a goner.” As they walked out into the hallway of the emergency area of the hospital, her stepsister, Kerry, came rushing in asking the whereabouts of her father. All three woman were pulled into a private room where Kerry, was told that her step-father had died and immediately Kerry started to sob. Through her sobbing Theresa heard her say “I knew when I got up for work at 5:30 am that something was really wrong, he was crying out in pain.”
Moments later in the hallway before the entrance way to the emergency room, Theresa pulled Kerry aside. “Did you say Dad was crying out in pain when you got up for work this morning.” “Yes,” Kerry said, “he was in obvious pain and very uncomfortable.” Theresa’s eyes flashed an anger that she was sure her step-sister recognized. Between the hours of 5:30 am and 8:30 am when her step-mother woke Theresa up to announce that she thought her father was having a heart-attack, her father had been lying in pain. Did he try to get up? Is that why he was lying vertically across the bed with his legs dangling over the side of his bed? Did her step-mother leave and not realize he was in pain? “Impossible” Theresa thought, she must have known he was in pain. By the time Theresa was woken out of her sleep, her step-mother was all ready for work; did she sit in front of her mirror and fix her hair and make-up while her father was yelling out in pain? The thoughts overwhelmed Theresa as she tried to push the horrible scenes out of her mind.
All three of them walked out of the hospital and as Theresa looked down into the brown bag holding her father’s clothes, she started to feel a numbness go through her whole body. She couldn’t think anymore – her father was gone and it was obvious he had been deprived of a right that Theresa felt that everyone deserved – the right to die with dignity. Theresa knew all too well what was next, she had to contact her siblings, and other family members, a funeral would be planned and she would greet her siblings and family as they arrived from near and far. She tried desperately to push the thoughts of her father’s last moments here on this earth aside as she prepared to spend the next few days honouring her father.
The next few days during the viewings and the funeral were a blur to Theresa, she kept going back over the last conversation she had with her father the night before his death and it was clear to her he knew he was going to die. Thinking about her father’s health, she was sure that if the ambulance had been called earlier he would have been more comfortable but she didn’t think it would have made the difference in the outcome.
Theresa’s life moved on but she found she was haunted by her father’s last moment. Theresa felt if she had woken up earlier, she could have made the difference in her father’s death. The constant flashbacks bothered her so much that Theresa fell into a deep depression a year after her father’s death. Not sure where to turn she started to see a counsellor who told her that something shocking or devastating had to have happened to her. Theresa continued to deny that anything shocking or devastating had happened to her unable to process her father’s death. Several months into the depression, Theresa had a vivid dream. In her dream she was back at the kitchen table with her father having that last conversation before he died. In her dream she told her father that it was late and she was tired that they must really get to bed. He walked her up to her room and gave her a kiss on her forehead and said goodnight – as she walked into the room he said “sleep tight and don’t let the bed bugs bite” as he slowly closed the door. Theresa said “no dad – don’t close the door, you know how I hate to sleep with the door closed.” Her father said “I don’t want you to be disturbed by people getting ready for work in the morning.” “It’s ok dad, I’m so tired a bomb wouldn’t wake me up.” “Ok sweetheart, I’ll leave the door open – goodnight – I love you.” “Love you too dad.” In the dream Theresa watched as her father walked away from the doorway to his bedroom. Theresa woke with a start as the dream was so vivid and the dream revealed the very last moments she spent with her father. Theresa now understood what had been haunting her for the last year or so – when Theresa’s step-mother came in the room to wake her up to declare “your father is having a heart attack, but he doesn’t want me to call the ambulance.” Theresa was already awake, she was stirring from a deep sleep and now Theresa remembered clearly – her step-mother came barging into her bedroom after she opened the bedroom door. Someone had closed that door and she was sure it wasn’t her father. Someone didn’t want her to hear the commotion going on in the house that morning.
Theresa believed the vivid dream was a confirmation of what she felt was true all along. Her father was neglected when he needed his loved ones the most. The dream also served as a message from Theresa’s father – it was time to embrace fully what happened, forgive and move on. As Theresa slowly started letting go of the haunting she read a quote by Gandhi and kept that quote close to her heart – “When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it always.”