A Painful Anniversary

Three years ago on this date, my dad lost his battle with esophagus cancer and entered eternity.

I remember him waking up in the wee hours of the morning, unable to catch his breath. We called the paramedics, who rushed right over and strapped him to a gurney for the trip to the hospital.

‘Do you want us to give you something to help you breathe?’ they asked him.

Dad nodded.

His eyes were huge. I’m certain he must have been frightened. And worried.

A ventilator was inserted, and off they went.

Some time later, Dad’s doctor came to the waiting room to inform us Dad wasn’t going to win this round.

‘He’s pulled out of these things before,’ Mom argued.

The doctor’s face was as grim as his words. ‘Not this time.’

He went on to explain what was happening to Daddy medically and, based on his experience, what Daddy’s foreseeable future would entail.

‘He wants to tell us something,’ my mom insisted. ‘Can’t we take the ventilator out?’

‘Yes, I’d recommend that. Let Nature take its course.’

Meaning, Daddy would die?

‘It’s time,’ the doctor said. ‘There’s nothing more we can do other than keep him comfortable.’

After the ventilator was removed, Daddy still couldn’t speak to us. His eyes held ours as he lay on the hospital bed, propped up amid pillows and hooked to various monitors.

We talked to him, held his hands. Prayed.

And tried not to let him see our tears.

Our parish priest came to administer the sacrament of the sick (last rites, it used to be called).

We prayed some more.

By this time, Daddy’s eyes were closed. His breathing was shallow.

‘Is he in pain?’ we asked the nurse.

‘No, we don’t think so,’ she said. ‘This is going to take a while. You all look exhausted. Why don’t you go get a bite of lunch?’

Food? At a time like this?

‘You have to eat,’ she insisted. ‘I’ll call immediately if there’s any change in his condition.’

Grudgingly, we left, but didn’t go far.

About forty-five minutes later, we re-entered the hospital corridor, and Mom’s cell phone went off.

‘We’re here,’ she told the nurse. We raced back to Daddy’s side.

‘This is really it?’ I asked.

The nurse nodded.

‘I’ll turn these monitors off so you don’t have to see or hear them,’ she said.

She pulled the curtains shut, plunging the room into semi-darkness.

Tearfully, we said our goodbyes as Daddy took his last breath.