The following is the introduction to a book I’m revising, hopefully for the final time, before a good professional edit. I’m looking for a handful of readers for Part One (of four) titled, Breathing, which encompasses three months of a year long journey. If after reading the introduction, you have an interest in reading more, please follow the instructions at the bottom of this writing. If not, that is okay too. I know it is not for everyone, but for someone, as is true with most writings.
I park under the partial shade of the small tree and make my way to his spot—eventually our spots. Even though it’s only 10:00am, the temperature is mid-afternoon high in the Midwest. I watch the ground making sure not to step on anyone. I see details, dates, and names of some who occupy the same location as Bill. As I make my way by visual land markers—first a left by the tree with the chimes, and then a slight right to the bench, which sits in front of the little boy who doesn’t have visitors often, since his flowers are three seasons old and his details are tarnished from weather.
Covered in lawn clippings and damp ground, I wipe it away, commenting to myself, or him, “Oh, you would never allow this.” No, this would be immaculate be it my yard, and not the cemetery—disconnection from the reality before me suddenly awakens when I sit down on my spot on the right side of the headstone.
I come here often. I don’t stay long.
Usually when words bring tears, then release, I leave.
When will death become easier to swallow, without the accompanying lump, which on a full stomach transitions to nausea?
“I haven’t abandoned him here, just the painful memories in the corners of the rooms.” I tell this to myself to subside the guilt of his surroundings.
I remember as if yesterday, and forever ago—when life stood still and went too fast. When pain and anxiety landscaped the emotions of each day. When hope in a cure dissipated at every new spot on expensive medical equipment. And time was dwindling down to moments.
How did I get here, to a place where death resides, with a desire to live?
The timing was sometime, maybe a week before I lost my dad, waiting for Bill to die.
After the memorials in two states, I make my way home. Not capable of another assurance, “You’ll be okay,” or uncomfortable comfort from many, or complete avoidance from some, I sink under the covers, as the protective insulation of shock gives way to despair so deep I will come close to ending it, that it being my life.
The Bible lay on the front porch, waiting for me to find her. Hard cover. Soft pink and green, the color a reminder of the short time we lived with in-laws in the transition of one house to another in the early 90’s.
The anonymous gift, delivered in advance, will save me from myself.
Was it a real-life angel?
I don’t know. Before we go here, we need to go back, to before, when the small thread of hope holding life and death together like in an old cartoon, when Coyote is holding on for dear life in complete and utter fear of his fate in the hands of Road Runner above—when for a brief second he is fueled with hope the situation will turn out okay.
Hospice delivered his new bed into our room. This was the first time we didn’t share the same one, not exactly a black and white version of a 1950’s sitcom with two twin beds, but two all the same. I attempt to hide emotion at his elation over the new present, knowing that it will allow him momentary comfort. I know he’s not detaching from me, as much as from here. Later in the day he asks, “Is it bad that I want it over soon?”
I respond, “You know where you are going, right?”
“What do you see?”
“I see hope.” He grins slightly at his response.
I simply answer, “Good.”
April 14, 2017 – I’m sitting on the side of the bed in an attempt to be near. He reaches to hug me, saying, “I sure do love you.”
April 17, 2017 – Morning after a rough night, thinking we lost him, he looks at me, pushes my hair back and says, “You are so beautiful.”
And then he was gone.
Roadrunner removes the knife and slits the tether that holds me intact, and I free-fall to a plume of dust below.
She walks in with flowers in hand. It is either Valentine’s Day, or my anniversary, or another special occasion which all blur after Bill’s death. She hands the flowers to me, and remarks on how she hopes whatever is held behind her back will make me happy. Why would it not? What could she give me as a surprise that would make me feel otherwise?
She brings the item forward, gently as if she is holding a newborn baby, to reveal a white frame with a black and white picture of my hands holding Bill’s hands. Remembrance enters in at the sight of the photo, a vague recollection, not sure if the memory was always there, or it was actually tethered to another’s recording, and eventually taken as my own.
No, I remember, it did happen. She posed our hands together that sunny afternoon. I was sitting in the chair by his side, wanting to get a glimpse of beauty in what would be the calm before the storm. I remember her saying, “Mom, I want to take a picture of you and Dad holding hands.”
“Why?” I wonder, but do not ask aloud.
She posed our hands together to take a picture; his lay still and easily moldable. No other images to document the day when he was there, but no longer there. No visual remembrances of him in his hospital bed in the corner of our bedroom.
I take a pic of the pic to text to a friend faraway and notice an odd silhouette– it appears my hand is holding their hands, somehow saying, “It will be okay. I will hold your hand and walk you through this awful ordeal.”
I begin to recount the moments, at first listing details as they arrive on the surface of the mind, until they go deeper to where feelings dwell.
It was as if I was holding on for dear life. Squeezing his hand, yet his held no response. I would know hours later though the difference between alive and dead through touch, as the body does strange things after breath stops. But then, there, his eyes shut, his breathing calm, as if waiting to die in a peaceful slumber.
Did he know I held his hand in mine? Did he hear our words spoken across each other about him, and to him? Did he? Or at this point, was he unaware?
I’m afraid to let go, afraid when I do, the connection will drift away into the sunset, or above, as Patrick Swayze did in Ghost at the end of the movie.
Hours before he left, I hold same hand and tell him of my dad, that he unexpectedly died. I share about him being sent to go to the ER after a procedure to remove cancer from his bladder caused an infection, which ended up taking his life, when we thought he had at least another six months left of life in him. I heard him, my dad, the day before in the background, talking over my mother (a normal occurrence) as I relayed the progress report on Bill—as close as we get from states away to feel their concern.
I realize they won’t be able to comfort me now as I watch Bill breathe, unconscious.
Instead I sit by his side and transcribe as best as I can to the anonymous world of the internet, maybe because intuitively I will not be able to embrace this circumstance but only document so to go back and reflect another day months into the future:
My dad died last night.
The evening already had its challenges. Your breathing was erratic. Unsettled. At times like this, I lie there and listen as an invisible anxiety barometer escalates my pulse with each breath.
Somehow, my body gives way to sleep.
A text arrives that startles me awake. It is from my sister. Just three words:
“He is gone.”
I caress Bill’s hand as I tell him about my dad. I know he hears me even though his eyes remain closed.
I tell him my crazy thought that maybe my dad wants to be there with his dad, side by side, to welcome Bill home.
I take comfort in this thought.
Bill is near the very end of this horrendous battle, a long battle that has caused so much pain.
I hear the words play in my head all morning of a song by Mercy Me, titled, Finally Home, “I’m gonna wrap my arms around my daddy’s neck, and tell him that I’ve missed him. And tell him all about the man that I became, and hope that it pleased him. There’s so much I want to say,
There’s so much I want you to know.
When I finally make it home.
When I finally make it home.
Then I’ll gaze upon the throne of the King, frozen in my steps. And all the questions that I swore I would ask, words just won’t come yet. So amazed at what I’ve seen! So much more than this old mind can hold.
When I finally make it home.”
I take comfort in him being home with His Savior.
Sometime before, or after, who knows when a day like this is on the calendar, the details fuzzy at best, the Hospice nurse arrives, sits on the side of Bill’s bed and gently takes her hand down his arms and legs, a gesture that on any other occasion would leave me jealous. She’s looking for something specific.
Apparently she can tell by his skin tone that he is hours away from leaving us. She says by looking at his breathing pattern and calm composure that he is already gone.
“Gone where,” I wonder but don’t ask aloud.
Instead I’m guiltily distracted by her compliment, telling me how pretty she thinks I am, wondering if I should look a bit more disheveled, like widows do of ages old, when they wore all black, slumped low until an acceptable time to adorn color again. You know I’ve never been one to wear black; the color doesn’t suit me, makes me look ashen. Besides, he is alive, not dead.
His lungs still take in air. His chest slowly rises and lowers, up and down, in a quiet, rhythmic pattern.
I hope now that she was right then.
Things abruptly change and his breathing becomes congested and choked-phlegm. Hours of torment, pain. Erratic. You could see trauma etched through the lines around his closed eyes. The girls help relieve their dad’s pain as I watch their expressions of terror are ever fixed in my mind.
Late into the night, after numerous ups and downs, drifting asleep here and there in the midst, I hear his breathing above the oxygen machine and walk over and ask, “Honey, are you in pain?” an obvious, but desperate question. I realize maybe more so now, even though I’d given high doses of powerful drugs at this point, that it was not enough.
The last dose of a different medicine proved fatal.
After they took him, we excavated the landscape as best we could.
Garbage bags of filthy towels, catheters, items of sickness and newly purchased flannel gray bedding, discarded to remember no more.
The smell lingered though. Disinfect.
Remove the breathing machine, all articles representative of death, as if temporary covering over the unsettledness, with a deep cleaning.
I make it through the first day in small increments.
I attempt to push away his face from my mind, the moments before, and all the details that accompany the official death. The red velvet blanket covering him—me not letting him go as they gently, firmly pull me away—the same men all dressed for a dinner party, get the wheels stuck on the door frame, cumbersome, not at all graceful, as they wedge their way through the doorway. The last time I will see his presence this side of eternity. I feel exposed as people enter my home without invitation, like I’m a criminal. I know this is procedure, and not the people, but the police are callus to my condition, with the exception of one kindhearted woman. The pouring out of drugs into cat litter, I see it soak the litter as a cat does in the privacy of his box, when I see the vial, the one that…
Hours later the adrenaline refuses to relinquish its right to my system, so I down a glass of wine and hope to numb it away. I sit in the bathtub, lean back, slowly calm, and drift to sleep, when I cry out a faint petition to God,
“God, give me something.”
A couple minutes later, the door to my bathroom opens and one of my girls enters to inform me of two women at the front door who want to pray with me. Are you kidding me?
I tell her to send them away. She leaves. I close my eyes again.
Not another minute later, another daughter enters to ask about the two people walking across the yard to their car. Feeling a bit guilty, knowing whoever would go out of their way for me is a good thing, I get out, dry off, get dressed and walk out to see a familiar face.
Apparently, she had no idea that Bill already passed; I’m not sure who is more uncomfortable in the moment. But since she had a strong sense God wanted her to come over, she wonders if they can pray with us.
“Can we pray in the bedroom?” I ask, knowing the difficulty being in there, especially since the steel frame of the naked hospital bed sits there, glaring at me.
They speak words of life into our parched spirits.
As I thank them, I realize my specific request for something from God. And he gave me someone.
Hours before he left us, I clipped a small part of his hair at the widow’s peak. It was my favorite spot, where silver mixed with black. How fitting to have a name such as this. I hold this small lock and rub it as one would a rabbit foot, and calm formulates from within, and I wonder, if maybe even for one moment, I will be okay.
Nine days later, I have a near death experience.
*If you are interested in reading Part One, titled, Breathing, please let me know at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
On February 10th I will send a PDF to your inbox. Upon completion of part one, I have a couple of questions I’d like you to answer of your reading experience. Your answers will help refine the direction of the next three parts as I journey toward publication.
Thank you for your willingness to help this story move forward into the hands of readers in need of hope.