All the trappings of Valentine’s Day were there: cards crowding the bureau, a box of See’s candy, a plate of chocolate-chip cookies next to the hospital bed, roses in a vase, snapshots of the family; but we weren’t focusing on the holiday. We weren’t in that kind of mood. “Soon,” the doctor had said. “He’s going to go soon.”
Dad seemed ready to go, but were we kids ready to let him go? Lord, I prayed, am I?
He was just a few weeks shy of his eighty-seventh birthday. He’d lived a long, good life, raising the four of us, keeping track of nine grandkids, walking daughters and granddaughters down the aisle, bellowing hymns offkey from the front row of the church he and Mom had always gone to.
He’d been in this care facility for five months now, and in hospice for the last few weeks. I’d sung to him in his wheelchair in the sun-soaked dayroom and had sung to him in his bed here, with the hissing of the oxygen tank for accompaniment.
Palliative care, they called it. Just to make him comfortable. And maybe to give us time to let go.
He’d been our spiritual leader, praying for us with his rambling graces every night, blessing us and the meal and “the hands that prepared it.” Now it was our turn to bless him.
“Thanks, Dad, for teaching me how to sail, how to float in salt water, how to shave, how to ask a girl to dance, how not to throw my tennis racket across the court when I’m angry, how to forgive, how to fly a kite.”
Could he hear any of it in that distant place he was in, eyes closed, breath coming slowly, as if each might be his last? Never the first to leave a party, Dad lingered, but didn’t I need to tell him goodbye?
“It’s Valentine’s Day,” I heard a visitor behind me murmur. “He doesn’t want to spoil your Valentine’s Day.”
I turned back to Dad in his bed and replayed the last conversation he’d had with me. “I…am…loved,” he had said, the words coming out haltingly. Wasn’t that all we could ask? Wasn’t that all we had to know?
I’ll do it now, Lord, I told myself. I kissed him on the forehead for the last time, the same place he kissed me as a boy when I said my bedtime prayers. “Goodnight, Dad,” I said. “We’ll be okay. You are loved and so were we.”