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Rated: E · Short Story · Family · #1107974
A lifetime of love for my dying father comes down to the touch of a strong hand.
His hands are still chiseled and strong, long since forged from 50-years of hard work. His body lies weakened and drawn, tired from fighting these past few weeks. While all manners of his physical being are being depleted, it's his hands I notice. Though I cannot be sure if he even knows I'm here, he responds with a squeeze that seems to replace the words he cannot utter. He's unable to communicate other than by squeezing my hand when I ask if he's comfortable, cold, or if he needs anything. After a lifetime of words, it’s all come down to the touch of a rugged hand.

He's tired. Tired of fighting, tired of what time has done to an overworked, and probably under cared for body. I assure him it's OK to just let go, he squeezes harder. I do all I can to comfort him, wiping his brow, cleaning his face, massaging his legs. I establish a rapport with every nurse immediately, learning their names and where they are from; I take as much interest in their lives as I want them to take in my father's. It seems to work. They are kind, pleasant, and seem to genuinely care about him, at least when I am there. I post a photo of him on his bulletin board surrounded by his five sons, just so that they see that this is a "real" person, one who has a real life, and people who love him too. This is an attempt to keep him as humanized as possible while the familiar traces of his being begin to fade ever so slowly.

His smiles, his laugh, even his baby blue eyes are all but fading now; all that remains is the physical shell of the man. When he wakes at all it's usually with a look as if asking, when? His eyes bespeak his need for relief, comfort, and freedom, as he always dreaded and protested any hospital stay. All I can do now is be a presence in his room, not being too sure of how aware he is of his surroundings. All our existences are circular, his present condition illuminating this fact daily as I see him slip more and more into the reliance of others. And when all else has been given, all I can give is love. I cannot take his pain away, nor can I make him well. All I am left to offer is the loving assurance that he is not alone and that he is very loved. I am his advocate, educating myself as I go, asking the questions that need to be asked, and always weighing them with what he's instructed and told me he wanted. I am wrestling with how far I go, what procedure is "too much", and as I do I seek balance both from within and above in my decisions. I recognize as I sit and look at him that despite his almost foreign appearance, what I feel now is not unique to me, the pain may be - the feelings are not. We all will experience this on one level or another in our life times. In a strange way it almost makes me feel more alive to experience such sadness and loss; having never lost anyone in my immediate family makes this event a sort of uncharted territory.

I've stayed as long as my absence from my own child would allow, and then I returned to my still cold-on-the-plate life that I ran out on after the hurricanes in South Florida. My father is nothing if not the toughest man I know. After everything he's been through and all the physical ailments, his spirit yields nothing to his condition. He fights, and I hold his hand. Occasionally a tear wells up in his eye and I'll dab it before it falls, making me wonder if he really does know what is going on around him. Because of this fact I will not cavalierly discuss his condition or my options in his room with the Doctor's and nurses, choosing instead to always step outside. I operate on the assumption that the body is weak, but the mind and spirit are still very alive, probably in ways we cannot fully understand until the day when it will be our turn. Still it all goes back to his hands. These are the hands that held mine when I was too sick, or lifted me through the endless summer waves of my youth at the Jersey shore. These are the hands that may have occasionally been used in anger, though I cannot ever remember that they were. He is weak for sure, but his hands speak of the 72 years that have sculpted them, as if the hands are the odometer of one's life.

I am gone now, and I wonder if he misses my presence, I know I miss his. I shall return soon though, as I suspect he has very little left in the tank. I want him to go, to be in peace, to finally be free of the ravages of illness. Yet his stubborn nature in life seems as if it will accompany him in death. He will not give up without a fight, maybe when I return I can convince him to loosen up that powerful grip of his. No one wants to see their parent die, however I've kind of prepared myself for this moment through my father's other recent bouts with mortality. The selfishness in me wants to hold onto that grip as long as I can, though the compassion in me wants to see his suffering end. Problem is, at this point I'm not sure who has a greater grip on whom.
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