It's hard to wrap one's mind around the concept of saying goodbye to someone, knowing it's the last time. And it's not something we do very often. I myself had never done it before Dad got sick. Now I've done it twice.
Saturday night I sat on the edge of Dad's bed. He held me while I sobbed on his chest. And I thought about how surreal it was to know that I will never see him again in this world. I have known many people who have died over the years, and in most cases I can remember the last time I saw them--but in none of those cases did I know it would be the last time.
It begs the question, if I had known it was the last time, would I have done anything differently in the way I said goodbye? I don't think so. But if this experience has taught me anything, it's to really appreciate the time I spend with the people I love, and when I'm leaving them, to tell them I love them and MEAN IT. Every single time.
I won't tell you everything Dad and I said that night--I'm saving that for his memorial service (another totally surreal thing to say). But three little tidbits stand out.
First, as I cried, I said, "Dad, I'll miss you so much." Dad was crying too. I expected him to say, "I'll miss you too," but he didn't. He's too truthful for that, and it occurred to me that, despite his faith, he doesn't know for sure whether he'll miss me or not. So he didn't say so. Instead, he said, "It means so much to me to know that my daughter will miss me." I almost laughed out loud. As if I might not miss him! As if his death won't leave a raw, gaping chasm in my life! As if his absence won't be like the phantom limb of an amputee: an ache caused by the impulse to call or send him a photo every time I see a beautiful flower or a cute dog, only to remember he won't be on the other end of the line if I dial.
Second, I reassured him once again that he must NOT worry about Mom. And he reiterated that that's his biggest worry. I honestly think leaving her is the only fear or regret he has about his death. And of course it's that. Of course he's more concerned for her than he is for himself. I promised him that Carl and I would check in on her every day, and that we have extracted promises from everyone we talked to in Cheyenne to take care of her for us. And I told him that I believe, in no uncertain terms, that they will keep those promises. Mom will be all right.
Third, once I had dried my tears and collected myself enough to leave the room, I paused in the doorway to take one last look at the man who gave me life; who read me Seuss and Dahl; who explained to me, using an orange and a spoon, how scientists figured out the world is round; who taught me how to figure out the time signature of any piece of music I hear (I've been doing it automatically ever since). He must've sensed me there, because he threw over his shoulder a very casual, "Good night, Allison."
"Good night, Dad."