Diagnosed in September, made it through Thanksgiving, made it through Christmas, one last New Year, for a 1929 model, we were near my father’s end.
I knew. Did he know?
What the dying are thinking, what they’re feeling, it’s a sacred secret. Both of us being hopeful, maybe he was thinking like I was, that maybe we didn’t have months…but maybe we had weeks…
Turns out, we just had days.
I Was On The Night Shift
My father’s house was a little place. Walk in through the carport and there to your left, the kitchen, big enough for two, with a small bar on the edge with two stools, if you wanted to be in the conversation but out of the way. The living room, cozy sized, dominated by his chair, like a throne for a dying king, a side table near it, more cluttery than ever, with the addition of medical this ‘n that’s. Ten, twelve steps down the hall, past the bathroom, was his bedroom.
I knew nothing about caregiving. It’s such a toss-you-in-the-water-and-learn-to-swim kind of thing. Dad was not a bad patient. (One of the great graces of his ending was finding out that what he always stood for was what he really was – kind, considerate, gentle – even with fatigue, medication and the fear of death.) But…he was, at some level, like a child again.
Questions, questions, repeat. A restlessness, asleep in his chair, then restlessness, uncomfortable, sharing his body with his enemy, cancer.
It was winter, dark early, and I encouraged him to go to bed. It was a curious thing, me “tucking” him in, like he’d done to me so many times in my childhood. I consider it a great wealth, to have heard him say his goodnight prayers to his favorite person, God. They were old, dear companions in life, and like speaking to a friend, Dad spoke with ease, affection, certainty. He mentioned my name to God, prayed for the family, thankful for friends, some generalities, “those in need”, was grateful for another day, hoped he’d done nothing to offend God.
I found, and still find, it curious, that he did not pray for himself.
With Dad in bed I could relax. I sat on a stool at the bar, reading something. Over on the right, on the stovetop, were many dishes of food, that people had dropped off. One was a black iron skillet, with cornbread, hardly touched, cooked by a grandson.
My father and I are both sentimental. His mother’s kitchen had a heartbeat of its own, in my memory, and his too. With me it’s her rice ‘n gravy: with him, it’s cornbread ‘n milk. He’d mention that, I probably heard it 30 times, how the big meal of the day was lunch (called dinner) and the leftover cornbread was often the supper meal, in a bowl, milk poured over…mmm, mmm, mmm…a poor boy’s version of cereal I suppose.
Never appealed to me.
And lookee here, who just walked up on me…
The Last Supper
I was startled. Suddenly there Dad was, out of bed and right beside me. Whether weakness, or effect of medicine, I don’t know, but there was an air of sleep walking to it, a little mumble that he was “in the mood for something.”
Around me, into the kitchen, to the stove.
He got a bowl, cut a slice of cornbread and plopped it in. Slow motion, careful, careful, and I beat him to the refrigerator. “Tell me when, Dad,” as I began pouring the milk…
He added a spoon of sugar, and smushed the cornbread, did a little stirring, and took his first bite, standing up, right there by the sink. His eyes closed. He smiled.
After His Last Supper Jesus Prayed, Let This Cup Pass From Me
I’m aware, that some of you reading this have seen death come hard, and inconsiderate, to quality people. Prayers for healing, then prayers for gentle ends, and it was not to be.
I was particularly curious how God would attend to my father’s end. I knew of no other person, for a personal, eye witness certainty, that “deserved” a gentle ending, like my father.
…and here my father is…a dead man walking, someone with no appetite, shrinking the pounds, and for his last supper, he returns to childhood, to peace and place, eating something that circles back to good ole days, youth and vigor, home and hearth, belonging and simplicity…
He’d had no appetite for weeks, but he cleaned the bowl. “Ahh…” he said.
“That was good, Dad.”
“I think I’d like some more.”
This time, two slices of cornbread. He never sat down, just stood near the sink, sometimes staring at the dark nothing out the sink window, sometimes looking my way, an expression like a sick kid on Christmas Eve.
This was Saturday night. After this second bowl I tucked him back in.
He was restless that night. I awoke at five in the morning, hearing him making grunting sounds in his bedroom. Walked in and he was trying to put on his church pants. Didn’t want to be late.
I got him dressed, easier to just put the pants on over the pajamas, and he sat in his chair for hours, looking at the clock, waiting for church time.
We went. He sat during hymns, he slept during sermon, but he was there, in his Father’s house. His last supper, childhood once again, his last Sunday, in church once again. He’d be in his hospital bed on Monday, stay until Friday, when his soul went where souls go…home…
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This edition of Uncle P’s Bedtime Stories is brought to you by Eighty-one, where we hope you find that God is faithful. Other Bedtime Stories can be found on the Eighty-one Facebook page. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A special thank you to his grandson, Chris, for making the cornbread. You were cooking for God and Poppy.