Every year, around this time — the end of May — I feel myself slipping into the same suspended state I was in 15 years ago when we were waiting for my father to die. It comes with the purple blooming of jacaranda trees and the scent of jasmine, thick and lazy in the air. He had stopped eating, his eyes were closed all the time, and we had been told it would only be a matter of days. Waiting is a reality of life that comes in many guises. We wait for food in restaurants and take-out places, we wait in lines at banks and stores. We wait for friends who are running late, or repair people who were supposed to arrive an hour ago. And we wait for big, significant things — life-changing things, like love, or a career break, or the birth of a child. Sometimes we wait for death. Before I did that, before the last days of May became for me a death-watch, I would have regarded it as a difficult, wrenching process, ragged with sorrow and stained with tears. But then I found myself in the midst of it, and there was something serene and other-worldly about it.

The day-to-day pressures and obligations that usually intrude moved back; I had a sweet remove from the world and all its problems and annoyances. My focus, my center, was a quiet room where my father lay between white sheets, tended to by nurses who had been with him for years. We spoke softly in that room and paid close attention whenever his eyelids fluttered. Maybe he would open his eyes, we thought…but he didn’t. In the moment before he died, they would open one last time, but in those days of waiting, he had drifted off to some distant shore and we were left behind to watch and wait. I remember the feeling of the world rumbling past as if it didn’t need me right then, and I didn’t need it. A thin version of that returns to me every year at this time. Donald Trump’s tirades and tantrums are more of an echo than a reality. While I can tell you what’s going on in the country and the world, the emotions that usually crest and flood my psyche are calmer, as if they need to rest and drift in another direction for a while. The guy who ran the stop sign just as I was coming into the intersection makes me shake my head instead of screaming out the F-word.

It won’t last, I know that — after June 5th, the anniversary of my father’s death — I’ll probably be clenching my jaw again at almost every news story. And bad drivers will get called some kind of name. Every year, I think a lot about this state of waiting, this now-familiar calm that comes over me just as jasmine starts blooming in California. I settle into it, wanting to understand it better. I think waiting for death transports us away from this life, maybe just enough to remind us that this whole dance of life and death is a mystery. We’re here, for however long we are, and then we’re gone. For days after my father died, I would stop sometimes, listen to wind through the trees, and whisper, ‘Where are you?’ It’s humbling to know that death is hovering nearby and it will move in when it’s ready. It reminds us that there are bigger, more monumental things than the petty annoyances and trivial concerns that too often claim our days.

Each year, I tell myself I want this calm, this small space of remove to last. Sometimes I almost feel like it can. And then a guy in a Range Rover runs a stop sign…

3 Responses to WAITING

  1. Victoria Brandon says:

    Another lovely piece, Patty. I was there standing across the street from Pearce Brothers the day your father left Santa Monica. Thank you for reminding us to seek that place of calm. And for sharing your memories.

  2. Anthony Love says:

    God Bless you!

  3. deb kim says:

    Thank you for writing your thoughts… Death sure makes us put things into perspective. I too am not afraid of it. It can be a peaceful, beautiful force.

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