Shades of Death
Traffic was coming to a halt in the middle of highway 163 a couple of miles outside of Pella. Which is weird. Very weird. Even slow farm equipment doesn’t usually bring it to a stop. I strained to see around the big diesel dually carrying 4 Amish gentleman in front of me but still couldn’t see what was happening. It only took a few minutes and less than a quarter of a mile to find out.
As I rolled all the way onto the gravel shoulder to get around what was left of the car and the parts spread out on the road, my eyes followed a young looking man who crouched next to the passenger door. The car looked like it had been compressed at a high rate of speed, presumably by running into a slow moving flatbed which was now stopped in the grassy median. The young looking man was talking to the passenger who was not responding and I wondered if he was the driver.
I later found out that the passenger had passed away and that she was pregnant. Just like that. Gone.
Twenty minutes later, I’m sitting next to Dad’s bed at the hospice house, watching his labored, intermittent breathing. His hands are at times moving as if he has things to do but just can’t get them done. I want to help him, ease him, comfort him. I talk to him, tell him I’m here. I ask him what I can do for him. His answer is only his raspy, struggling breath.
It’s been two days since I was here last. Since then he has stopped eating, drinking, swallowing and as far as I can tell, communicating. I don’t know if he understands I’m here. The nurses showed me signs of his encroaching death. “Could be five minutes, could be a couple of days. Probably not tonight but you never know.”
When I saw him on Friday, one word whispers were the extent of his end of the conversation. I sat on the floor next to his lowered bed and tried to guess what he was thinking, what he wanted. He seemed uncomfortable, agitated. When asked if he was in pain, he gave a breathy “no”.
I was with him most of last week except when I had to return to Des Moines for my own chemotherapy. Every day revealed a noticeable decline. When it was just the two of us, I would lie on the floor next to his bed which had been lowered to the ground. I put my head by his feet so I could see his face through the bed rails. I watched him. I studied him. I drank him in. I wanted him to see me if he opened his eyes. I wanted to read his face, his hands for any clue of a thought or need.
He not-so-slowly gave up his habits. Reading the paper. Watching the Olympics. He talked less. He ate less. He moved less. Everything less.
And now he lays here. He will not escape death this time. In many ways, it has already happened. My Dad is gone. His shell is left but not for long. I miss him already.