That Saturday before was one of the mildest days of the summer. The sun was out, the birds were playing, and there was a slight breeze. Though he would never admit it, he was a sun-worshipper of a not-so-typical breed. He sunbathed with all of his clothes on.
Let me explain - he would go out to mow the grass, set up a lawn chair, and request some tea. He would mow the lawn, take a break to sit and drink his tea - and sometimes fall asleep in the sun. His hands, arms, and face ALWAYS looked tan, no matter what time of the year it was. The year I got married, he and my mom and sister went to our favorite family vacation spot, Willow Valley in Lancaster, PA. It was the first time in nearly 30 years that he wore shorts. He sat outside and ended up with 2nd degree burns on his legs, after them not seeing the sun for so long. We laughed about it, but he learned his lesson.
The day before he died, it was beautiful. He had been unable to speak and seemed peaceful for about a week and a half. We had asked the nurse if we could take his bed outside, since he loved to be in the sun. She didn't see a problem with it, so we moved him, his bed and his oxygen tank out into the Veranda. We sat out there for about and hour and a half just letting him enjoy the sun. The nurse came out to check on us and mentioned that, to her, this was the most peaceful she had seen him. She definately agreed that it was good for him.
Later that night, a nurse had gone into check his vitals and was in the room for a really long time. Mom and I went in and asked her what was going on. She said that his blood pressure was very low and just gave us a sad look. My heart broke. My sisters and brother-in-law, along with my mother and some family friends came in to surround his bed.
I held his hand and looked at everyone in the room. I didn't know what else to do. I'm the oldest and so was he. I was used to taking charge of situations and this was no different. It just ended up being one of the hardest things I've ever done. I heard the rhythmic sounds of the oxygen machine, the soft, muffled cries of those in the room and just started to talk.
I said, "Daddy, you don't have to hold on for us anymore. We will take care of Mom and Mimi and Pop. Over the years, you talked so much about how excited you were to see those in your family and life that have passed on before you. They are all waiting for you. I promise that we will never let Jeremy forget his Poppy. We love you so much and because of that, we can let you go." That was at 11:30pm.
After that, I got in the car and headed to my Nana's house. Ten minutes after I walked into the house, the phone rang and I just started to cry. He let go. My mother text messaged me about how thankful she was that I was able to say what others weren't able to say. My heart broke again. I didn't want my father to hurt anymore, but I thought it kind of comical that he would listen to me the ONE time I didn't really want him to.
My little boy was still up when we got the news and he came over to me and said, "Mommy, its ok. Poppy is in heaven now. He doesn't hurt anymore. He loved you." All I could do was pull him into a hug and just be in awe of the insightfulness that my little 4 year old had. My aunt ended up driving me back to the Hospice Center to be with my mom and sister's who had come back. I walked over to his bed. The room was just still now. I touched his hair and held his hand, kissing his forehead to tell him I loved him.
The man on that bed had the body of my father, but the part of him that made him my dad had gone. I tried to memorize his skin, his hands, his still intimidating presence. My first thought was, I've lost the only person who ever asked to hold my hand. I later realized that I haven't lost as much as I thought. My son, who looks so much like his Poppy, still holds my hand, even when I expect him to pull away. My dad still lives. I still feel him. Even if he's there in a 4 foot package.