I was 2,000 miles away when it was time to tell Dad goodbye.
Not that I hadn't said goodbye already. Charles William Brooks had been in decline for more than two years, a bout of pneumonia having gone from a rushed midnight hospital trip to a slow-boat ride in a living-room hospice bed. Two years is a long time, and the goodbyes had been, at turns, heartfelt and merely glancing. God help me, at times they were probably even impatient.
But that was then, as the old chestnut goes.
A professor once told me existentialists put their money (philosophically speaking) on the now; a timeline tipped on end so the single moment -- this moment -- is everything. There is no thought more terrifying.
The now is the void is the darkness is the end. Now is everything? Fuck that. Fuck everything about it.
People grieve differently, and so I've taken a sort of reptilian, unblinking gaze into how my own coping tools are specific to, and probably right for, me. As Dad declined, I treated things as a series of projects to be managed and controlled. Move closer for more frequent visits? Yep. Help mom manage the growing squad of caregivers? Sure. Walk everyone through who was paying for what so they'd stop worrying about The Government Coming To Take Their Stuff? Absolutely.
And later: Watching him forget how to sign his name. Listening to tales of his career as if they'd happened last week -- because, to them, they had. Keeping the ghosts of his sleepless nights at bay with Haldol and Xanax.
Takin' care of business, every day.
When it was time to say goodbye, my sister got time alone to talk to the unresponsive, sleeping man on the hospice bed. He was Dad but also NotDad. In fact, I needed him to be NotDad at that point because the guy who brought home a treat in his lunch pail every day and who taught you how to ride a bike most certainly was not the old man on the bed with a catheter.
Apparently, his breathing picked up while she spoke to him; tell me it's just a reflexive response and I'll beat you until my knuckles are bruised and my eyes red-rimmed with tears.
I don't know what she said to him, and probably won't ask for a long time, if ever. I didn't even know what I'd say, until the words came out of my mouth, words wholly inadequate and, at the same time, wholly encompassing.
I told him it was OK to go. And I told him no one could have been a better father.
Rest in peace, Dad.