“You can go in now” It felt as though the words had come from inside me, like a thought instead of a sound. Time has a nearly infinite elasticity when you are waiting for something as rare as your last moments with someone you love and time for me had stretched to the point my consciousness had slipped through. Then the nurse stepped into my peripheral vision as I sat on the floor in the hallway. Her face was filled with compassion and graced with a gentle smile. She held her hand out towards the open door as if to welcome me. I could go in now. So I gathered my self together.
My Dad seemed to be asleep. I quietly took my place beside him and watched the machines do their work. And I watched the clock. Time on this side of the wall was much different. There is nothing as horrifying as having one irreplaceable second after another stripped away from you as the thin red hand on a clock circles. Not when your are just old enough to know what death is and not old enough help anyone do it. “Why are you in such a hurry?” my father asked. With this simple question juxtaposed with the horror I felt in our time's passage I was instantly transported back to another night.
My Dad had just gotten home from another emergency trip to the hospital. He cornered me in my bedroom and accused me of hearing his cries of pain and ignoring them. He said I wanted him dead. He was wrong. I wanted him to be well again. I wanted to play chess again. I wanted to go shooting again. I wanted to go fishing. I wanted to hear him read Shakespeare out loud. I wanted to talk about science. I wanted to have the peace, and safety, and completeness of having my Dad by my side. There was so much I wanted to say but all I could offer him in this moment was silence, and innocence. Eventually he left me alone in my room with all of that to want and no one to hold. But, I was four years older and had gained enough experience to meet what I felt was a harsh accusation with the simple truth. “I'm only supposed to be in here twenty minutes at a time.” Just then the same nurse came in the room with a fresh blanket saying “Take all the time you need.” And with those simple and profound words the spell was broken, my horror faded and my Dad and I passed a couple of hours talking easily to one another until he was too tired to go on and I left him to sleep.
His question and my reaction to it has clung to my life for the three decades since his death. It devoured me slowly and nearly completely. After my Mother's death the loss of her part of my Father's story made the memories of all the bad times more poignant and predominant. Her narrative had sweetness and memories of light my Dad had inside him. Without that point of view to help guide me I sank into the evil of the wretched, premature end of someone I love and need. Loss had become part of how I viewed my world to the point there was no taste, no scent, no sound of anything I once held dear. There was only longing and anger. Grief was like a filter on a camera lens, unnoticeable except for the resulting image; skewed reality. Finally, during a reliving of my experience in the hospital I realized what was happening, that this pain was literally killing me and with the help of people I love I found a way out of the spiral.
This week I have come to say farewell the third man I have loved the way you should love a Father, Dr. Ulysses Gonzalez. He was a great man that lead a long life and died surrounded by Family. I will miss him very much, many people will, and his death should not be mourned but life without him will be. My role in the ceremonies is singular, to be here when my Wife needs me. The quiet within this simple duty has offered me a precious moment of clarity. My Dad was really hoping to hear that I had friends waiting for me. He wanted to hear that I had something important to do or something fun. That I had to go to work to help support the Family. He wanted to hear that the things were in place that would give my life meaning and joy. He wanted to hear that he had accomplished something very important by creating a whole person strong enough to carry on with out him. In this moment I miss him more than ever, and more than ever at peace with his absence.
I see now that having a great number of days in my life may not offer me a chance to pass from this life with all conflicts resolved and a loving legacy. The quantity of my days is not what I can control, my only chance is what I do with the time I have left. If I want to die well I must live well. I must work joyfully to create the world I want and accept the world that exists. I must guard the health of my body, and my mind, and my soul. I want to teach Ella how to play chess. I want be a friend to as many people as I can. I must paint. I want to laugh, a lot. I want to hear every word my Wife and Daughter have to say and take them to heart and make them part of me. I must learn to offer all my thoughts as expression of joy. Most of all I must learn to face my fear without anger as a shield, because when death comes I want to go smiling.