It was about nine months after he was diagnosed and he was in a lot of pain. When I saw him he was pretty heavily medicated. I remember walking into the hospice and at this point all the nurses pretty much knew me; they warned me that my dad wasn�t doing so well that day. This wasn�t something new to me, I saw him fading at every visit that I made. I didn�t realize how bad that day was for him until I saw with my own eyes.
He was sitting upward in his bed, sleeping, or so it seemed; his eyes were shut. Across from his bed were two chairs, one for my mom, who was with me, and one for myself. My mom immediately took a seat as I approached my father�s bedside. I grabbed his hand, which lay relaxed, palm down against the side of his leg and leaned in, gently placing a kiss on his forehead. His eyes opened for what seemed like a second yet in that second a smile spread across his mouth as he saw me. He grabbed my hand before shutting his eyes again. It seemed as though he was struggling to keep his eyes open but the medicine overpowered him. I stood there and looked down at his body.
His skin had gone from its regular olive tone to deep yellow from the chemotherapy and his once full head of dark brown hair had become devoid of any hair besides the few wisps that somehow survived. I looked at the frail body that had been slightly plump. Now it resembled that of only skin resting against bones. It became hard to remember what he had looked like prior to the disease. I looked at him laying there and it became apparent there wasn�t much time left.
I let go of his hand and sat down on the chair across from his bed. My mom sat there looking down, she said nothing. There was nothing she could say; she knew it was only a matter of time. I gazed up at the blank walls that lined his room and took a special interest in the one wall that had some life to it. It was the wall directly to the right of his bed. In the middle of the pure white color of the wall was a small tack board that consisted of a few of my father�s memories. There was a 3x5 school picture of me from the year before as well as one of my old dancing pictures. I was about ten in that picture, in a green and purple outfit. I remember that dance recital vividly. I was dancing to �Congo�, a very popular song back then, sung by Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine. I had a purple band around my head with green grapes hanging down; it was a picture that I was utterly embarrassed of. I remember staring at that picture wishing that I were back there now, seven years prior, when cancer wasn�t even a disease that I knew about or had heard much about. Back to a time when my dad was healthy and playing basketball with me, using the roof of the house as the net. Back to a time when the biggest problem in my life was whether or not I could remember my dance moves from class. Back to a time where my dad was healthy, happy, and in no pain.
Along with pictures of myself, there were two pictures of my sister on the other side of the board. One was a school picture, like mine, of three years prior, the other just a random picture taken of my sister about year or so prior to that. I wondered how she was handling all of this. We didn�t really talk openly to each other about what was going on with my father. It was weird that it never came up. Not once. I guess it was because we didn�t want to think about it or think about what was next to come. My sister and I never really were that close, but you would think being brought into a situation like this one; it would be something to bring us together. It wasn�t though. I remember specific occasions when she would come over to my house and we would greet each other and asked how the other one was and the conversation would end there. Neither one of us had questioned whether or not the other one had gone to see my father; we didn�t question how the other was dealing with it; we simply avoided one another. Eye contact even seemed to be eluded between us, I guess in an attempt to avoid serious conversation. Our �talks� were quick and to the point and the point never regarded our father.
In the middle of the board was a card, I am not too sure who that was from, but I do remember it had a pink floral print against the white background of the card. I stared at the board because it took my focus off of looking at my father. It was hard to see him like that. It was a lot harder than you could imagine.
My father and I didn�t exchange any words that day. He had too much medication in him to be able to utter any words. There were random times he would open his eyes and look at me. That was my favorite part, it seemed as though he had opened his eyes and quickly looked in the direction that he saw me in before to make sure that I was there. It was like he was searching for me; he was waking up for me. He was trying to at least, I knew that much. He looked me in the eyes; smiled and his eyes shut as quickly as they had opened. After about an hour of random eye contact with him, it was time to go.
The whole time my mother and I had sat there in silence. We exchanged no words. I knew she didn�t know how to comfort me and there was nothing else that would have made sense to talk about at that point. The conversations that my father and I had generally started with how the drive went; if my driving was improving and my angst to get my license so that I no longer would have to drive the �family van�. The main reason that my mother came to the hospice with me was because I didn�t yet have my driver�s license, I actually had my learner�s permit so driving down to the hospice was my �practice time� behind the wheel. Despite the divorce I think my mother had a stake in going to the hospice; I mean there was a point where they were married and obviously loved one another. They did engage in conversations with one another; there wasn�t any animosity between them, so it wasn�t uncomfortable with her there. The only discomfort came in the ride home that day when no words were exchanged between either one of us.
I stood up and walked over to my father, grabbed his hand just as I had when I first arrived and gently kissed him on the forehead again. I took one last look at him, rubbed my free hand over his bald head and told him that I loved him. As I went to remove my hand from his, he grabbed it. I stopped, looked at his eyes that were still shut and felt relieved. He heard me. He knew I was there. I prayed that he would open his eyes. I just wanted to make eye contact one more time with him, I just wanted to see him search for me and see me right there in front of him. He didn�t though. I don�t really know if my presumption is right, but I left that day thinking that him grabbing my hand was his way of telling me he loved me too.
After his hand had left mine, I put my head down and walked out of the room, my mother just in front of me. I wanted to turn around and have one last look, just in case he had opened his eyes to look for me again. I wanted to turn around, but it was too hard. It was too hard to look at him like that again, at least that day.
As we passed the desk that sits directly in front of the entrance to the hospice, I noticed one of my father�s nurses and waved goodbye to her. She smiled and I�ll never forget what she said, �I�ve never seen someone hold on like he has, but look at what he has to hold on for.� I smiled back and slowly made my way out the door. That one little comment became a fixation in my thoughts, it stuck with me the whole night. That one little comment made me more proud to be my father�s daughter than I had ever felt before. Thinking that he was laying there in pain, with nothing left to his physical appearance, for me. He was fighting for me.
I felt guilty that whole night wondering how many times my father opened his eyes that night looking for me. I knew how happy he was when I was there and I felt guilty leaving him. I wonder to this day if he opened his eyes at all after I left. Maybe I was the last person he saw. Maybe I was the last thought in his head. It makes me feel better to think that maybe I was.
� Meredith Moore