as he lay dying

i have this amazing sweater from anthropologie. it's the softest material. it has birds on it, and it's an easter egg green. it's one of my favorite clothing items. 

it sits in the bottom drawer of my dresser and taunts me. i wore it to the hospital the day my dad died.

i got a call from my mom. or maybe my sister. and maybe it was just a voicemail. it's hard to remember. we were at our middle's lacrosse game. my mom left me a message saying, "it doesn't look good. the doctors said to call the family."

what happened? i don't understand. he fell? he was in the driveway? he was bleeding. lots of blood. a neighbor found him. a nurse. no one knows how long he had been sitting there. the neighbor, she talked to him. he tried to talk back. he said to tell my mom he loved her. 

i don't understand. he's been in and out of the hospital my whole life. seriously. broken ribs. broken hand. broken nose. knee replacement. back surgeries. (After one of these, my mom reminded me that we went to pick him up from the hospital in an RV. oh how i wish i had pictures of THAT.) black widow spider bites. bleeding ulcers in which he lost all 8 pints of blood. ALL EIGHT, people. 

i don't understand. he recovers from everything. e v e r y t h i n g. ok. so he had brain surgery last night? so he'll be ok. right? he's always ok. 

call the family. we aren't sure. 

i pack the green sweater and some other favorite sweaters because after all it's fall in north carolina (still summer in florida) and i don't get very many chances to wear sweaters. i shower since my flight leaves early the next morning. i fix my hair because i want to look cute since i'm sure i'll get there, everything will be fine, and my mom, sister, and i will go shopping.

i land in greensboro and turn my phone on. there are texts. lots of them. GET HERE FAST. HURRY. I CAN'T DO THIS ALONE.

do what alone? what is happening? take care of him? he'll be ok. he's always ok. 

i start hyperventilating on the plane. sobbing. no one offers to let me off the plane. i don't ask. i tell  no one. time stops. 

i don't understand.

i get off the plane and start running to the exit. my brother-in-law is there to pick me up. he catches me before i collapse. we sob. then we realize we need to HURRY. drive fast. 

inside the hospital, inside the ICU, inside the curtain. i see him. i s e e h i m. i don't want to see him. not like this. the last time i saw him was july. in a wendy's parking lot. for ten minutes. two quick hugs. savannah. he and my mom were headed to eat at paula deen's restaurant and we were headed home after our kids had spent two weeks with them. 

i    see    him. 

and i almost faint. i cry. but weird crying. not like boo-hoo in the movies. like panic cry. like inandoutican'tbreathe cry.

my mom shushes me. says "he might hear you."

i'm confused. so i turn around. silent cry. that ugly kind where my whole body is convulsing but i'm not making noise.

i can't stay in this space. i can't touch him. i'm afraid. so many tubes. so many monitors. everyone at the nurse's station has that look. they look at me when they see me. with eyes that say "i know. i know what's happening."

but i don't want to know. i don't want this to be it. who wants it to ever be it? so i know that's silly to say, but not like this. not now. 

i don't want to know.

and then the doctor comes. stony-faced, she tells us that he won't ever recover from this. that he's brain dead. that when he fell and hit his head, he broke his skull in two. IN TWO. (we stand around and joke, "well the man never does anything halfway!") that even if he were to survive this, he would never get out of bed, never be normal, be a "vegetable." (i think to myself: doctors really say "vegetable"?)

then my mom asks if the doctor is a christian, and the doctor pauses. then she starts weeping. W E E P I N G. the brain surgeon. the woman who tried to save my dad's life.

she hugs us. she is so sad and sorry. 

we spend the whole day, in and out of the room, talking to him, holding his hand, hugging him. saying good-bye. 

my sister finally says, "i don't think he's here anymore. i think he's gone already."

after this, i feel some semblance of peace. i can't explain it, but it helps me to think that my dad is not lying on a hospital bed with tubes everywhere and a giant hole cut into his skull. 

out of the blue, a girl arrives and talks to us about organ donation. she tells us that my dad is special--that only 2% of the population who is willing to donate organs actually is eligible. i haven't looked up that statistic to know if it's accurate and i don't care. my dad can live on inside someone else. it gives us something to focus on. something that makes it ok that we all have to say aloud "yes it's ok for you to unplug him from all those machines and tubes and let him be."

we sign paperwork. we make jokes. inappropriate ones sometimes. we have the ICU staff cracking up. we are loud. quiet. laughing. sobbing. hugging. alone. together. 

it is awful. 

at 12:30 AM we go down to a room. it feels like we are in a laundry room in the basement. my dad is there, plus five or six hospital staff plus the organ donor girl plus my uncle plus my aunt plus my sister plus me plus my mom. in a v e r y tiny room. 

we know this is it. they unhook everything. they have explained to us that when they do this my dad might act suddenly as if he's waking up. alive. they said it's normal, but it's hard to remember. we hold hands. we pray. i turn around and hide in the corner. no one even notices. i can't look part of the time. i'm not this brave. i'm not brave. 

he is brave. he's my hero. he recovers from everything. i don't understand.

they have told us they are afraid he might hang on too long. he has to die within an hour or he can't donate his organs. 

breath. beeping. quiet. 

then my mom: "ok, go. please go. just GO. it's time. it's ok. i love you." in his ear. right there. LOUD. her all. her everything. telling him to go. just go now. it's ok. go or else someone who's waiting to live won't have hope.

that is the bravest thing i've ever witnessed anyone do in my entire life.


ten seconds. 

he's gone. 


  1. Beautiful. Just like you. And your dad.

  2. Oh my goodness that was breathtaking. I'm so sorry for your pain. What an incredible man your father was and a beautiful legacy he left behind. Thank you for sharing such a bittersweet moment. From our pain and suffering others heal.


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