It had been a long night. I knew this day would come; there was no preparation for it. As we all stood around the hospital bed, holding hands, I saw a puff of smoke above me. I looked around at our family and friends. Their eyes closed. Was it inappropriate to shout out, “Hey, look at that?” I remained silent.
The prayer circle dispersed. Looking across the bed, I saw tears in everyone’s eyes. Each person leaned over my dad’s body and whispered something in his ear, patted his hand, and left. Could he hear what they were saying? The nurses had removed his hearing aids. I was skeptical.
Trailing behind, I leaned over to tell my dad, for the last time, “I love you.” I thought I heard a heartbeat. “Wait! Come back. He’s still alive,” I wanted to scream. The monitors told me otherwise.
My dad had suffered a massive heart attack. He had been in the hospital for four days. There was nothing the doctors could do for him. His heart was doing a bypass. A blockage formed, and he wasn’t getting enough oxygen. He wasn’t healthy enough for surgery. The hospital staff never told us he wouldn’t recover.
I sent for my kids; both lived in different states. It was a prudent move, just in case. I’m glad I did. Though they were there to see their Pop-pop, I was the only one in the room when he had his last attack.
He asked me to move his bed up further. His back was hurting. As I raised the bed, he instructed me when to stop. I sat back down in the chair I had pulled up next to his bed and held his hand. His eyes were closed in a drug-infused sleep. I studied his face.
Memories flooded my mind. I am dancing on my dad’s feet in the living room to a Frank Sinatra song, riding on his shoulders, watching him work on a car engine in the garage, taking me for ice cream, walking me down the aisle, being there for me whenever I needed him. Daddy’s girl. I wished I had been a better daughter.
When the monitors began sending out a siren, the door flew open, followed by a team of nurses. I stood up and asked politely to leave the room. As I waited by the nurse’s station, one came out to speak to me.
“Your dad needs more oxygen. We want to put a tube in him to help him breathe.”
“Is it life support?” I asked, knowing he had a DNR in his file.
“No, it’s just a tube to help him get more oxygen into his bloodstream.”
“As long as it isn’t life support and will help him get better, go ahead.”
When I was allowed back in his room, a breathing tube shoved down his throat. Not expecting this, I ran out, yelling at the nurses.
“This most definitely looks like life support to me, and we have a DNR on file.” No one paid attention to me.
I called my mother, who had just left the hospital. She had been by his side for hours, and had gone to change clothes, and get something to eat.
“Mom, something happened after you left,” I explained the events leading up to the breathing tube. “They think you should come back right away. I can notify the rest of the family.”
Sitting back down at my dad’s side, I held his hand. I apologized for the breathing tube. I explained it was to help him get better. I didn’t believe it; I knew. He did not react. His eyes closed. His chest was moving up and down to the hissing of the oxygen pumped into his lungs. He never said another word.
As family and friends entered the ICU room to pay their final respects, I moved towards the window. I knew he was gone. The fake breathing didn’t fool me. By the time everyone arrived, it was after 11:00 pm.
The doctor came in and whispered to my mom. Nodding her head through her sobs, the doctor approached the bed. He removed the breathing tube and placed a stethoscope to my dad’s chest; he listened. As he turned to leave, he patted my mom on her shoulder.
It was at this time, as we all held hands, saying a prayer, the puff of smoke appeared over the bed. I said nothing.
By the time we got home, it was close to 3:00 am. My son took the couch, my daughter, the air mattress. Exhausted, I crawled into my bed and fell into a deep sleep.
I dreamed my dad was standing on my porch, waiting for me. Opening the door, I saw a younger version of him, like the pictures I had seen when he was a young man. Handsome, with dark brown hair, and dressed in a suit from a different era, cigarette in hand.
“Hey, Luc, come on out and dance with me.” He reached his hand up for me to take.
As he guided me down the steps, I heard orchestra music playing.
“Daddy, I’m so glad you came to visit me.”
“Anything for my little girl.”
“So, how is it?” I asked.
“Look at me. What do you think?”
“I think you look great. But why are you here? Shouldn’t you be on your way to see St. Peter?”
“He can wait a little longer. I wanted to come by and see my favorite girl first.”
I lay my head on his shoulder. I could hear his heart beating. I could smell cigarette smoke mixed in with the smell of his cologne. Sweet tobacco. I breathed it in. I didn’t want the dream to end — one more twirl, one more hug.
As he twirled me around one last time, he slowly faded away. Crying out, “No, stay.” I awoke from my dream.
Gray daylight streamed through my bedroom window. As I lay in bed, wanting to remember everything, I heard a rumbling. Were we having an earthquake?
Jumping out of bed, I ran into the living room. I opened the front door. My kids woke up.
“What’s the matter?” they asked.
“Listen,” I said.
Standing with the front door open, we heard it. Thunder. Loud bursts of rolling thunder.
I turned and smiled at my kids.
“He made it!”