Monday, March 11, 2013

In the Presence of Absence

When we walked into the hospice that bright, blue September day we knew we would walk out changed.  When we walked down the long, carpeted halls we stole unsure glances into other rooms, while we looked for his.  We did not want to be here, but we did not want to be anywhere else.

With a deep breath we entered his room anxious about how he might look.  But our eyes fell on Aunt Lesly.  This was the first time we had seen her in 17 years.  Why does death do that?  Why does death bring to life what we had long left buried?

Our next concern was Mom.  She stood as we approached and hugged us hard.  She cradled her healing arm, a new baby to which to tend.  She had already delivered her father to this place, carrying him his final weeks. Now, her true children were with her.  We felt sure she was ready.

Dad was there, too, of course.  He had been right by Mom, right by us, for as long as we could remember.  Our barometer by which to gauge life's required events.  

Finally, our eyes and our hearts settled on Papa.  It had been nearly a week since we had seen him.  He had been in a hospital gown then and so he remained.  It fit him loosely, but we knew he no longer cared how he looked.  We believed that he still cared dearly about who was near. 

So, we sat and we waited.

Oddly, it was Aunt Lesly who told Papa we were there.  She had been gone for so long, yet she was was the one who set the scene.  She spoke boldly into his ear, announcing each person by name.  We were grateful she knew what to do.  We were so glad she told him.

And then we waited some more.

"Aunt Lesly, we are going to welcome a new little one into our family soon," we said.  We didn't know what else to say.

"Oh, I didn't know.  Congratulations."

Of course she didn't know.  Papa didn't even know.  What would he say if he could hear us?  Could he hear us?  We could certainly hear him.  Unlike us, he was not afraid to breathe. 

The nurses came in from time to time.  They always brought relief.  They kindly answered our quaint questions.  They calmly made sure Papa was comfortable.  They might have been angels.

Once, they shifted Papa slightly to the side.  That's often all we need to get going, really.  After they left, he stopped. The rattle had been released.  Everyone in the room stood, moved by the presence of absence. 

We truly knew Papa had left when Dad looked at his watch.  Daddy always knows the time, the weather, the score.  We expected him to drop his arm to look at the digits on his wrist.  We did not expect him to place his strong, tan, daddy hand on Papa's pale forehead and bestow a kiss. 

We had never been there before when someone had died.  It was finished.  It had just begun.

We held each other.  We even hugged Aunt Lesly.  We cried.

And then we waited some more.  We did strange things like make jokes and sit on the edge of his bed and drink soda.  Even though he was gone, we stayed.  But then it was time for all of us to go.  

Walking out into the crisp, cleansing September evening we knew we were closer.  We knew were were closer to each other.  We also knew we were closer to doing this again.

We lost our grandfather that day, but we gained insight into more than we might even realize this day.     
We are seven years apart and therefore very different.  We are from the same parents and therefore very similar.  We are siblings.  We are sisters.  We will change, but that never will.  We have, but that has not.  We live in different houses now, but we still grow up together.    

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