The Last Laugh
The next day was a long one. Dad's stomach-bouncing was minimal.
We didn't know what to do. We just sat, waiting to feel worse than we already did. That seemed almost impossible. A hospice worker suggested we each take some time alone with him to share our private thoughts. Finally, it was my turn.
At first I felt a bit afraid of being alone with Dad. His breathing pattern started sounding finite. Each inhale was a jarring gasp that seemed to come in 10-minute increments. When he exhaled, it sounded like a January wind whistling through a small crack in a window. I learned later that is what is fondly referred to in hospice circles as a "death rattle."
I climbed into bed with him and grabbed his hand. I put my lips right up to his ear, and spoke to him in my normal voice.
"Dad, squeeze my hand so I know you can hear me." He squeezed back. I wanted him to squeeze it off.
I didn't know where to start, so I started with apologizing for opening the card.
"Dad, I opened your card. I couldn't wait. I hope you're not mad. It made me feel so special."
He didn't squeeze my hand but his belly started to bounce. Right then, that felt better than a squeeze.
"You know I love you, and you are my inspiration to go out and make the world a funnier place."
"I know you let me win at Jeopardy!"
I wanted to say every single thing I ever felt, but I was in a verbal free fall, so I just wanted him to laugh.
"Dad, I have to tell you, I am who I am because of you, and that includes the bad parts, Mister!"
There was a knock on the door. It was the hospice worker. "The priest is here for the sacrament of the sick."
"Okay, just a minute," I said and then continued into Dad's ear, "You couldn't have done a better job of being a dad. I hope you are proud of me. I love you."
I kissed him on the forehead again and went to open the door for the priest and his last rites.
Afterward, everyone filed in and took their places. Then a nurse came in and checked on Dad again. "It is time," she informed us. "Your dad will pass within the hour."