It was November 3, 2002 when I got the news, answering the phone I heard my sister, breathless, “Lee’s blood pressure and heart rate are dropping,” she informed me of her husband who had been sick for quite some time and was lying in a coma, at home. “Can you come over?” she asked as if it were necessary to pose a question. I was already putting my shoes and coat on.
The twenty minute drive took me about ten, but it felt like two years had passed by the time I arrived. No need for knocking, I just walked in and hugged my sister. Together we went to the bedroom, where I heard his death gurgle and I cried. I only had two things on my list to tell him, but I wasn’t sure he would hear me. I said them anyway, “Lee, I love you, and I hope that you will grace our lives in whatever way you can after death.”
The words fell into the empty air, I wanted to hug him, to show him the pain we were all witnessing, but I feared hurting him. As if it mattered, his pain had been frequent, his soul long ready to move on, only holding out for the rest of us to be ready.
As my tears flowed it dawned on me, I don’t want him to see me cry, because he might know and be pained by my show of love. I left the room, somehow I knew it was the last chance I had, yet comforted in the idea that he already knew everything I was thinking.
We knew this was going to be an all-nighter, and in somber silence we sipped our coffee. After a couple of minutes Linda returned to the bedroom to check his vitals, I watched from my perch upon the kitchen bar stool. It wasn’t the normal vital check though, she sat on the edge of the bed, pausing before dropping the blood pressure cuff, and placing her head on his chest. Thirty seconds later I heard the words I didn’t want to hear, “He just took his last breath, he’s gone!”
Rushing through the dining room I joined her in the bedroom with two of my niece’s running in behind me. There we stood, in shock of what we just saw. Slowly, Linda pulled the oxygen hose from behind his ears, and slid it off his face in a manner that showed she too was wondering if the moment to say goodbye had actually arrived.
It had, and it was more painful than anything I had ever witnessed. Picking up the phone she dialed hospice to let them know, within minutes a nurse was there to help prepare the body for the funeral home. Linda and the nurse quietly shut themselves in the room to save Lee his dignity, even in death he deserved that much.
The remaining family members returned to the kitchen to continue our somber silence and sip our coffee. When Linda and the nurse were done we were invited in to say our final goodbyes, I rushed in, expecting to see him as the countless other bodies I’ve seen in caskets, lying there appearing to be asleep. Instead I saw the blue tint of the man he once was, the shock of death freaked me out and I ran from the room, just behind my nieces who seemed to have the same reaction to our first viewing of a body without three inches of make-up carelessly applied by some overpaid undertaker.
As the three of us stood in a hug, with tears freely flowing, no words were needed, each of us knew we had just been immersed into life and death, lost love with only memories to bind us to him. There would be no more laughter with him, no more special moments, just us and the memory of him.