The Last Laugh
When they took Dad to the hospital that last time, he called me from his room. "Lizzy, the paramedics asked me if I was on any medications. I told them everything but Viagra. Then they put the oxygen mask on me."
Those were the last actual words I heard him say.
It was my birthday and I was celebrating it at Coney Island with my sister Ann and her family. The cell phone service was crummy and the call went dead. I told the Viagra story to the group and we laughed. It was typical of Dad: dark, inappropriate, and funny.
"We'll call him later. Let's go see the sword swallower," I said.
Our sister Linda called me the following morning.
"You need to come home," she said in a voice that sounded like a little girl who had snuck away from the babysitter and called her parents because she was scared. "Dad is dying."
"How long does he have?" I said. I don't know where those words came from and couldn't believe I asked them as though I was talking about someone I didn't know. Ann, who was standing next to me, just stared.
"Maybe a day or two, so you need to come home now," Linda instructed.
"K, I'll tell Ann. I love you."
I didn't have to tell Ann. We both just started sobbing.
In his own way Dad, who had suffered from emphysema for years, had tried to prepare me for this day. A few months before his death he had sent me a card and had asked me not to open it "til after I'm gone."
Of course I opened it immediately.
The front was a photo of the Manhattan skyline. When I opened it, it simply said, "I love you. You are my favorite. Please don't tell the others."