I am listening to my brother Dean in Dad’s bedroom, “I’m right here with you. I love you.” He’s telling him the story of chukar hunting with our sweet Springer Spaniels, Beall and Katie.
A little while ago I heard Maddie reading a beautiful passage from Kubla Khan, by Coleridge:
“In Xanadu did Kubla Khan/A stately pleasure-dome decree:/Where Alph, the sacred river, ran/Through caverns measureless to man/Down to a sunless sea
So twice five miles of fertile ground/With walls and towers girdled round:/And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,/Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,/Enfolding sunny spots of greenery…”
I hope my Dad is imagining himself in a sloop on that sacred river, on his way to his mother, my mother, and his daughter, Midge. Or perhaps out in a field on a frozen morning in Eastern Washington, quietly walking through the stubble of a wheat field.
He is on his way. He took a turn for the worse a couple of days ago, and his heart – that has served him so long and well – just can’t do it any more.
I have set the table in the living room with things that have meaning: the pictures of my mother and my brothers that he has commented on so often in the past week; his college Shakespeare volume that Tommy thought to fish out; a bear from my cousin Louise and her daughter Mary; beeswax candles from my cousin Lynn and her husband, Henry; Remy Martin VSOP brandy; memory books I created for Dad; a collection of his favorite memorized passages; and chocolate, lots of it. Chocolates given by my mother and father-in-law for Christmas; Frango mints that were my grandmother’s favorites; chocolates brought in December by my friend Lisa.
Dad hears us and knows we’re here, though he cannot respond. Other family members arrive tonight and tomorrow. I don’t know what moment Dad will choose to let go; he doesn’t have any experience with quitting.
As Dale Swan, the Sutter Hospice chaplain, said to me, “This isn’t giving up. This is his victory lap after a life well lived.”
What I think I will say to my Dad is what Dad said to Mom as he held her hand, when her heart stopped on May 10, 1999: “I love you. You will be with your mother and Midge. And I will be with you again.”
We will miss you, Dad. I am so incredibly grateful for the legacy of your love in my life.