"Daddy won't wake up."
That is all my brother said, and I said, "I'll be right there," and hung up the phone before he told me anything else.
We had been waiting for him to die all week, watching as he slept more and ate less. He could barely hold his eyes open the day before, as he looked at my daughter and said the last words I'd ever hear him say.
"She's such a pretty girl."
The phone had woken me, but the sun was up. I broke a nail on the closet door as I was getting dressed, and chewed it smoothe on the drive over. Twenty forever minutes while is he dead is he dead rolled through my head on a continuous loop.
He was not.
He was not dead, but he would not wake up. His chest rattled and his feet were cold and we would spend all day watching that coldness creep over his body. We would spend all day greeting friends and family and talking to nurses and swabbing his lips to keep them moist. We would talk and take the flicker of an eyelid as acknowledgement. I read the Reader's Digest aloud and made bad jokes and pressed my body against his in a vain attempt to get him warm. To keep him alive.
That night, my mother drifted off to sleep next to him, and I fell asleep in his chair in the living room. I woke not much later not to a sound, but to an absence of sound. My brother, standing in the living room, his head cocked toward the bedroom door. We walked in together, silently, and knew he was gone. I sat on the bed and my mother woke up and said his name and I screamed, Don't turn on the light!, but only in my head.
And then they turned on the light and made it real; made him inescapably, unavoidably, gone.
It cannot possibly be a decade since I tried to warm my father's dying body, since I watched my mother fall in on herself. She folded in and in over and over until she was hardly there at all. It cannot possibly be a decade since I last held his hand or kissed his face or heard his voice.
This week, a friend lost her father after an illness that robbed him of strength and dignity. The kind of illness that makes faithful people say things like 'at least he is no longer in pain', and, 'his suffering is over'. The kind of illness that brings a heavy, unwelcome respite to caregivers. She asked the same question that I asked, that everyone asks - when? When does it get easier? When do I get to feel normal? Like I felt before all of this?
I sigh and smile and avoid the question, because the answer is never.
Eventually, the fog lifts. Sometime after that, pictures bring smiles and not tears. Later, you can laugh and not feel guilty. One day, you can sit and write about the day your father died and not be turned inside out with grief, hollow with loss.
I wish I could hold her hands and take her into the future, to the time when the clarity of details begins to blur. When you can't remember exactly what you wore and what they said. When you can look back and think, oh, it wasn't so bad, even when something inside reminds you that it was. Time turns snapshots into watercolors, making pain go soft. I wish I could speed up time and have her here with me, when memories are sweet and faith is strong and there is no doubt that we will laugh again.