It was seven years ago today that I sat in a small room at a hospice in Baltimore, Maryland and watched my father take his last breath.
He had small cell cancer from a lifetime of smoking and drinking. The doctors had declared it terminal less than a year before. My Mom took care of him from home and for the last couple of months, my wife, Tia, and I stayed with them to help.
It is immeasurably difficult to watch a loved one deteriorate in the way that he did. To go from someone you can sit and talk with about the latest British mystery show running on PBS (his favorite topic) to someone who would just sit on the couch, cigarette in one hand (often unlit), beer in the other, doped to the gills on morphine and unable to speak while his body ate him away from the inside.
The transition was quick, only a few weeks and he no longer seemed to know who we were or where he was. As all signs of the man I knew slipped away, we decided to move him to the hospice. We felt the quality of his life, for his last few days, would be better under professional care. It was not an easy decision.
An ambulance took him to the facility and my mother, Tia and I followed after. It took about an hour to get him checked in and settled into his room. He sat on the edge of the bed like it was his couch and his fingers, clutched at an imaginary cigarette, went to his lips, again and again.
It was very late, or very early I suppose, and we had left the house without money or food. I told Mom and Tia to go back to the house, to eat and get cleaned up. I told them that I’d wait with Dad.
I watched him while they were gone. Vacantly staring straight ahead, totally oblivious to me, his breathing ragged, in and out, in and out, in and out,…. Then it stopped. No warning, no other sign, just one second he was breathing, the next, he was gone.
I don’t remember much of what followed. I know that a nurse led me from his room, that Tia and my Mother returned and that they took me home, but those memories exist in a kind of haze.
I thought that the memory of his death and the month of pain that preceded it would eventually fade, that the memories would become easier to deal with as time passed. It hasn’t worked that way, for me. It some ways, those moments have grown sharper and more painful.
I still purposefully face those memories every year, allowing the pain so that I can remember the good moments. The times we sat on the porch, chatting and drinking a beer, the times we spent watching Sherlock Holmes or Inspector Morse, the times (few as they were) that we went fishing.
My father and I, we were very different people. We didn’t have much in common, didn’t spend much time together. I’ll have my regrets about that for the rest of my life.
He had his flaws, we all do, but Bobby Gene Glover was a good man, and I miss him.