Wednesday, August 10, 2011


"It's time. You need to come home," my brother-in-law said to me on the phone. My brother-in-law had never called me before. We ironed out that I'd hop on the bus immediately and that he'd pick me up and rush me to the hospital once I arrived. I called a few close friends who'd made themselves so kindly and wonderfully available to me to ensure that the cats would be looked after, I packed a bag, and then I walked to the nearby bus depot, breathing in/breathing out.

I had just been there. I had been there so often over the previous months and more so during recent weeks. Dad had been drifting in and out of consciousness for several days, lost somewhere between the hallucinations brought on by the hypercalcemia caused by his multiple myeloma, as well as those caused by the generous dosage of morphine he'd been given to ease the time he'd had left. I was returning. It was time for 'round the clock vigils, to make sure that Dad had family with him, that he wouldn't die alone. My shame? That I didn't want to be there for it. I feared it. I did not want to witness my father's ceasing to be.

My sister sat in a chair beside his bed, where he lay breathing quite raspily, nearly immobile, his arms bent and pulled up close to his chest, with his hands cupped and almost leaving him looking as if he could wake up and dive into a dog paddle. I paced, tired from my day at work and with muscles tight from the hours on the bus. My sister told me that he'd had brief moments of consciousness over the previous days, but that the doctors anticipated that between the wear of the drugs on his system and of the cancer itself, all we could hope for at this point was for him to "pass" easily and painlessly. Nobody loves a death rattle, so they'd even given him drugs to quiet his rasp a little. "It's customary," the nurse had assured me.

Dad sat up in bed abruptly, his eyes wide and alert and with arms suddenly outstretched. He was driving. After a beat I tentatively asked him where he was going. My sister rolled her eyes at me, continuing to work on her crossword puzzle. He grinned at me in the sly way I remembered from when I was younger and he'd tease us. He motioned as if pulling up to a stop and proceeded to indulge in some sort of mysterious interaction which I recognised as some sort of shopping errand. In French, he proceeded to hold up his end of a conversation with what I quickly realized was a jeweler, making it obvious that he was shopping for a new watch. Politely, he'd ask to try one after the other, comparing the time on his bare (to me) wrist with the time on the clock on the wall of his hospital room, declining one after another. "Bonjour. Ah non, merci." I tried to insert myself into the exchange -- to help. I asked him what he was doing, and he told me (again in French) that he was "buying time". My sister protested to me that he was tiring himself out and that I wasn't "helping". Soon, though, he and I found a watch he deemed satisfactory and he seemed relieved, finally relaxing against his pillows. He told me that he was thirsty, so I walked over to the bathroom off his room to get him some water in a paper cup.


I stepped back out of the washroom surprised to have heard him speak my name for the first time in several weeks. I looked at him, my sweet father sitting up again and staring intently at me, seeming so lucid and so concerned.


"Es-tu bonne pour continuer?"

Dad asked, in effect, if I was "good to go on". I assured him that yes, I really was. My sister insisted again with annoyance that I was tiring him out, ignoring him completely and oblivious to the entire exchange. He sat back in his bed and I brought him his water and he drank a little and fell back asleep. My uncle came to relieve us a half hour later and my sister and I went to my parents' house just a few minutes from the hospital, on call.

A few hours later, that call came. His temperature was up, his breathing irregular -- we needed to return. My mother, for some reason or other, had blood tests scheduled for the next morning and had been asked to fast. She was in the washroom, sick to her (empty) stomach when my father sat up one last time, looking straight at the clock on the wall in front of him and reaching out with one arm in front of him as if to grab hold of something. He wheezed and sighed deeply, then curled up against me and I held him. My father died in my arms four years ago as I write this. I remember the heat leaving his body as I held him. I remember clinging to that heat and ignoring the nurses who came in to do as gently as they could what nurses do to confirm that someone you love is gone.

I miss you, good and gentle lumberjack. I miss our shared geekiness. I miss watching Nova with you on PBS and miss sharing your OMNIs with you. I miss you telling me all about stars and pointing them out in constellations with the telescope you bought for me, kidding me that I was going to be your "little astronaut". I miss getting up so very early on Saturday morning when you'd make us both toast and cocoa and then read your science fiction books as I watched cartoons, everyone else in the house still fast asleep and with the morning all ours. I miss you teaching me to be kind to others, human and non-human. And later, I miss how you'd assure Mom that the books I brought home as a teenager were fine, whether Sartre or Satanic Bible, and that I was able to suss them out myself. I miss how excited you got over my going off to university, and how years after I had faltered and returned again to finally finish my degree, you were still excited and wanted me to share with you whatever I was learning -- to explain each and every thing to you. I miss that so much, every single day. So today, of all days, how could I not think of you?


veganelder said...

I'm glad for you that you had him and sad for you that he's gone and you have to miss him.

Anonymous said...

This is beautiful, Mylene. Thank you for sharing it.

Allysia said...

Take care, Mylene, and a hug from Saskatchewan!

Meg said...

This was terribly sad and emotional. Thank you for sharing; this is a beautiful piece.

Vanilla Rose said...

Pretending to be shopping for fake watches seemed to be what he wanted to do. I think it is good that you were there and understood that. Hugs.

sheree boyd said...

That was a very moving account of your last moments with your father. He sounds like an amazing man and father and you were both equally blessed to have one another. Thank you for sharing your life stories with us.

Julie said...

Thank you for sharing your memories of your father, Mylène; your writing is beautiful, as always.

M said...

Thanks very much for your kind comments, everyone. They're very much appreciated.

Lotsa love,


Campbie™ said...

I can only be agog at your ability to write this

M said...

You're much too kind, Campbell. Than you.