excerpt from THE LONG GOODBYE

e13-1Twelve years ago, on June 5, my father died. This is an excerpt from my book The Long Goodbye which was published in 2004. The book chronicled the journey of losing him to Alzheimer’s, and this passage is about the end of the journey. There was a small circle of people around him when he died — me, my brother Ron, one of his nurses, and the doctor.

 

As the morning goes on and sun burns through the fog, his breathing grows more threadbare. At several moments we think this is it. We tighten the circle around him, touch him lightly, tell him we love him. He inhales sharply; he makes a snoring sound and we laugh through our tears…there is nothing else we can do. We are like shifting tides around him — moving, changing, but never leaving. The phone is ringing. More reporters are gathering outside the gates. News reports can be heard from the television in the other room — President Reagan said to be nearing death.

It doesn’t matter. All that’s real is in this room.

Just before one o’clock we know that this really is it. His breathing is telling us — so shallow it sounds like it can’t even be reaching his lungs. His face is angled toward my mother’s. He opens his eyes — both eyes — wide. They are focused and blue. They haven’t been blue like that in more than a year but they are now. My father looks straight at my mother, holds onto the sight of her face for a moment, and then gently closes his eyes and stops breathing. The room is quiet except for soft weeping; my mother whispers, “That’s the greatest gift you could have given me.”

We had thought, the night before, that illness would define my father’s last moments. He showed us how wrong we were. His soul rose above all the damage of these past years and opened his eyes so he could look with love at my mother. His eyes were blue and full and tender. It was his last act of love in this world and it was meant to cradle her until they are together again.

The rest of the day was surreal. The helicopters came, circling the house, trying to get photos of someone, anyone. So many reporters came that the streets of Bel Air were impassable and the mortuary couldn’t get through, so we told them not to try until the police could corral the press behind barricades. We sat with my father’s body for more than four hours. His room was still the center of the house. We still touched him, stroked his hand whenever went in or out. There was no other room we wanted to occupy. “I don’t want to leave him,” my mother said.

Finally the mortuary was able to get through the crowded streets. As my father  was taken away, the room seemed suddenly empty, deserted. The hospital bed looked small without him in it. And the rest of our days without him stretched out in front of us.

There will be times when we are lifted up on the back of memories, and other times when sorrow drives us to our knees. Especially my mother, who will have moments of wondering why he had to leave first. We will wait for him to enter our dreams. We will look for him in every breeze that drifts through every open window. We will breathe deep and wait for his whisper to stream into us — tell us secrets and make us smile. And always, always we will remember that he gave us a moment that changed everything. He opened his eyes and proved that love is stronger than disease. That moment  will be the silver thread we cling to as days and nights unwind. We’re not always meant to know why, my father used to say; we’re meant to trust.

 

 

7 Responses to excerpt from THE LONG GOODBYE

  1. David Marks says:

    There is an astonishing beauty to the simplicity of this excerpt of a goodbye, but really, there are no words that say goodbye, when parting means that one leaves the earth, while others are left behind to mourn. Patti, perhaps the gift rests purely betwixt mourning and loss; perhaps when the soul escapes, we know the backdoor was ajar for a reason. No one can steal the moment of departure from us, and it is so sacred, no one can as much as try, Eloquent and beautiful, succinctly presented, I do believe I have more reading of yours to do. My life, and yes, my losses, become richer for it.

  2. Beautiful writing, beautiful, heartfelt story. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Rodney Wilson says:

    I am so happy that your father was able to give his beloved family that final gift of clear, blue eyes and a departing glance. May he rest in God’s peace and rise in God’s glory. May we all.

  4. Christine says:

    So wonderfully sweet. I pray that my grandmother is able to leave us with a similar gift. It truly is the longest goodbye.

  5. Thanks for sharing this excerpt. I’m reminded again why this is one of my favorite books — Intimate, artistic, and beautiful. It has even more significance to me now that your mom has passed — they seemed to have one of the greatest love affairs of our generation. My thoughts go out to you today.

  6. Erika Griesemer says:

    A month ago, I purchased your book while I was in Dixon, IL. I have to say what a wonderful and lovely tribute you wrote about him. I am honored to have this book in my collection.

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