I remember the day Daddy died as if it was yesterday. The phone rang, and I was half asleep, half awake as I fumbled in the dark to pick up the receiver. Quickly, I jolted up and said, “Hello” in a despairing voice. I knew it was one of my fears come to life—a call that changes your life in some way. A call most of us would like to avoid.
“This is Tara with Hospice. I think you better get over to your parents’ house as quickly as possible. He’s made a turn, and it’s imminent,” the voice said through the receiver.
Jumping out of bed, I quickly woke my husband and said, “We got to go,”
He responded as fast as me. Throwing on a pair of sweats and a T-shirt, I ran to wake up the kids. “Hurry-up,” I said. “We have to go to Grandma’s house. Hospice just called.” Within minutes, we were out the door and in the SUV. I was speechless—something that doesn’t happen to me very often. Imminent? How imminent, I thought.
The moon was out and there was light, but darkness was so deep. Streetlights were on and not another soul was on the road. The two-mile trip seemed endless. As I looked at my husband maneuver the vehicle, I wondered how my mom felt and how I would feel if it was my spouse who was leaving me. Random thoughts filled
my mind and emotions were growing quickly and attacking me from all angles, but I knew I needed to be strong. Don’t go there, I thought, stay focused.
As we pulled into the development, I saw the guard at the gate, and he waved his usual wave as we drove by. In my mind, I thought, I’m prepared, but deep down in the basement of my soul, I wasn’t. Deep down, I was twelve years old again, and I wanted this to be a bad dream, no a nightmare. I wanted my dad to live longer.
Before the engine was turned off, I opened the door and hopped out of the SUV leaving my family behind. Tara opened the door, and I headed towards the bedroom. “It’s getting close,” she said. I jutted into the room and quickly stopped. I saw my mom holding his hand, crying and begging him not to go. “What will I do without you,” were the words she said that wrenched through my ears. I went over to her and held her tight. We embraced and with tears streaming down my face, I assured her that everything would be okay. He was going to be okay, and so was she.
I grabbed my dad’s hand as he was gasping to hold on. Tara came up behind us, “It is imminent, but we don’t know how long. It all depends on him.”
I started to talk to him and tell him to go, but he was still hanging on. He was still gasping. He suffered for hours not wanting to leave. Tara left and another Hospice nurse showed up. He too was as kind as all the others were. Finally, I was sitting there next to my dad, and it hit me, he’s afraid, I thought. All of my faith was now looped into a tight ball. What do I do, I thought. He’s afraid of the unknown. No matter how strong he was, he was scared to go—afraid to leave. I remembered all the stuff I had read about death. All the things that I believed to be true, but without actual experience, I had only faith to rely on. I slowly got up and walked to the other
side of the bed. I noticed all the pictures of my family that showed all the years of his life.
My sister was in route, but she wouldn’t make it. He couldn’t last another nine hours before her plane landed. With one hand on the sheet, I gently touched his forehead with my other.
Adjusting his hair, I started to speak, “It’s okay, Daddy. Don’t be afraid. Just go through the tunnel and into the light.” I repeated the words a couple of times. I told him that it was pure love over there and that there was no pain, no suffering, and no hatred—just pure love. I watched as his breath went from extensive gasping—a gasping that had endured for three hours—to a calm breathing. I knew he was going home, and I wanted to stop telling him to go, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t. He needed me to help him go home. My mom and the Hospice nurse were by my side. My husband was there, by the doorway watching in stillness. The Hospice nurse urged me to keep talking to my dad.
My eyes swelled up with tears as I kissed his forehead. Leaning over him, I whispered, “Your soul needs to leave your body. The body is too old. You need to go home and everything will be okay. I promise that I’ll take care of Mommy. She won’t be alone. I love you, Daddy. Goodbye for now.” Then as if on command, I watched as his breathing diminish, and after a few minutes, he took one last breath, and he was gone.
I stood there crying. My mom, next to me was crying as well. I couldn’t believe that he was gone. I felt guilty telling him to go. I felt an overwhelming sense of responsibility to be the one who had this arduous task. There I stood looking at
him motionless, lifeless. It was the first time that I had ever seen someone die. It came over me like a rush of wave, there is a tunnel, a light, another place, I thought. No one could ever change my mind. The power of my words brought my father from his suffering into calmness, into peace. Where was he, now? When would I see him, again? When would I argue with him, again? When would I hug him, again?
The room was still for how long? I don’t remember. Then there was a rush of preparedness. There were so many things to do and no time to grieve. His body needed to be picked up for preparation for the funeral. I still don’t know where all my strength came from. When it was time, and he left with the funeral attendant, I realized that he would never step into that house again. The home had changed. My mom’s life had changed and, so did mine. I couldn’t ask his advice anymore or call him on the phone and hear him say, “Hi Tootsie, how are you?”
He moved away to a place where I cannot get in contact with him.
Years later, I still miss him. Time hasn’t changed the bottom line—he isn’t here anymore. There is still emptiness deep within my soul, but my faith has helped me believe that he is in a better place—a better world.
The cancer had taken its toll on him. It started without a warning and ran very quickly through his body like a triathlon marathon. There was no stopping it or slowing it down. It was on a mission—it had a life of its own. No matter how hard he fought, it was stronger. He got a little time—a few months. He was eighty when this hit and took his life. Some people may claim that he lived a full life, and he did. But when you are slapped across the face and told, “Two months more, maybe,” what do you do? How do you grasp an entire lifetime in a few months? How do you right the
wrongs? How do you ask for more time? Acceptance was hard. Deep down, I knew he wasn’t ready to die, but who actually is? Who is ready to leave what they know, and the people they know to go to the unknown or unremembered?
My dad died right after my fortieth birthday. That was almost nine years ago. I wrote this directly after his death when the details were so clear. His death awakened me to the fact that time is not guaranteed to anyone. The number of years we get is a secret that only our soul knows. What we do with that time is what we take with us—nothing else.
Ria Prestia is an author who lives in Florida with her husband, her children and her faithful lab. One of her passions is to reflect on life through the written word.