My plane landed early at JFK Tuesday night, but a hiccup with the equipment meant that we didn’t disembark until well after 11 pm. While we waited for the tow, my mind wandered. My phone was dead. Without email, texts, Twitter and Words with Friends, my thoughts were all I had. And they quickly turned sad and dark.
There are a few memories about my father’s death that I have tried – mostly unsuccessfully – to tuck away somewhere unreachable. I try not to think about the heart-breaking ride from hospital to hospice. About how I knew that the end was coming, but felt trapped between not wanting him to die and wishing for the torturous in-between to be over. I remember how he had begun to change physically, no longer looking like the Dad I had known and loved every day of my life.
But what forced my emotions to surface Tuesday night was remembering what it felt like to sit with my head on Dad’s shoulder one last time. It was July 16, hours before he was moved to hospice. Dad had been in ICU for a while now – days? a week? It’s all a blur now – and subject to isolation protocol due to the fact that he had contracted several infections including pneumonia during his hospitalization. Each time Mom and I entered his room, we were required to don a fresh yellow paper gown and blue rubber gloves, all of which we would discard upon exiting. Each re-entry required fresh garb.
On that last day, I couldn’t take the gloves anymore. I tossed them aside as I pulled up a chair close to Dad’s bedside. My sweet mother worried for my safety, but I couldn’t be concerned about myself.
Dad was sedated but sitting up at forty-five degree angle. Carefully, given the monitors and tubes connected to him, I put my head on his shoulder. One of my hands held his while the other stroked his forearm, committing the feeling to memory as I knew it would be one of my last opportunities to touch his warm skin.
Dad’s shoulder, which I leaned on throughout my life both literally and figuratively, felt smaller than I remembered. As we sat there, I took in the feel of his bones against my cheek, thinking of the many times he lifted his arms to carry or hug me. I marveled at the strength within.
“My Daddy,” I thought to myself, like I was a little girl. Tears fell.
I heard the woman in the seat next to mine rustling in her purse.
“Would you like these?” she asked in a lightly accented voice (Czech, I subsequently learned), offering napkins for the tears that had begun falling from my tired eyes.
“Thanks. I’m ok,” I replied before adding “I lost my dad four months ago,” so she wouldn’t think I was mooning over something dumb. I care too much about what people think of me sometimes.
We talked. She was kind.
And then it was finally time to get off the stuffy plane, return home to Brooklyn for the first time in a week and hopefully let this aching heart of mine get some rest.