I sit facing my father, a crossword puzzle in my lap. Dad loves crossword puzzles, mostly, I think, because my mom loves them. I love them, too, and it seems that working this one with him is helping. Whether it’s helping him or me, I’m not sure. Maybe both.
#2 Down: A fading eastern star? They always twist the answer a bit when there’s a question mark at the end of the clue. My favorite kind of clue, which requires looking at things from a different direction. I’ve got the first three out of the four letters. ARO_. Aha!
“I’ve got it,” I say. “AROD. Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees.”
“Hey,” Dad says, “good one! No way I would have guessed that.”
“Don’t heap your adulation on me just yet,” I say. “I had the first three letters already.”
“I’ll heap my adulation where I want, and where I want is on you.” He’s dying, but he’s still the same man he’s always been. Always building others up. Placing others before himself. And always, always with a firm grasp on his own opinion.
When I arrived at the hospice house, there was a Cadillac hearse pulling away from the building, its sides the color of storm clouds on a spring morning. Someone had just died. Walking into the family entrance, though, I found it hard to dwell on that fact. Everything inside was warm-toned wood and soft lighting. The nurses were supremely helpful. Nothing in their mannerisms told my father that they’d just dealt with someone’s death. Their smiles were frequent and genuine.
When my father turned 50, we threw him an Over The Hill party. If 50 was over the hill, he’s now reached the bottom, and is slowly coasting to a stop, only his momentum carrying him. Dad was admitted to hospice three days ago when the pain from his cancer spiraled out of control. Today, though the level of medication was causing him to hallucinate occasionally, I supported half of his bodyweight so that he could climb out of bed and sit in a chair for a while. This (I choose to think, egotistically) was the highlight of his weekend.
One of our nurses stopped in to ask if he’d like a snack, and he settled on some vanilla ice cream. As he ate, he asked me if it was Blue Bell. I looked at the lid, then back at him, and smiled.
“Let’s go with yes,” I said. Dad laughed around the spoonful in his mouth, content to believe the lie. It was ice cream, after all. He quickly tired, so we got him back into bed.
He’s sleeping as I write this, his noisy breathing a worrying reminder that he’s not at all well. He’s happy, though. As happy as we can make him right now. He got out of bed, and ate some ice cream, and I’m staying with him through the night so my mother can go home and get a good night’s sleep for the first time in a while.
So I’m thankful for hospice. I’m not happy that my father is here, just around the corner from one of those light-dark-gray hearses, but if he’s going to die (which we all are, one way or the other), I’d hope for him to die in comfort, surrounded by caring family. It’s terrible that this place has to exist at all, but I welcome the difference that it’s making.