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Archive for October, 2012

SHIFTING THE SUN

When your father dies, say the Irish,
you lose your umbrella against bad weather.
May his sun be your light, say the Armenians.

When your father dies, say the Welsh,
you sink a foot deeper into the earth.
May you inherit his light, say the Armenians.

When your father dies, say the Canadians,
you run out of excuses. May you inherit
his sun, say the Armenians.

When your father dies, say the French,
you become your own father.
May you stand up in his light, say the Armenians.

When your father dies, say the Indians,
he comes back as the thunder.
May you inherit his light, say the Armenians.

When your father dies, say the Russians,
he takes your childhood with him.
May you inherit his light, say the Armenians.

When your father dies, say the English,
you join his club you vowed you wouldn’t.
May you inherit his sun, say the Armenians.

When your father dies, say the Armenians,
your sun shifts forever.
And you walk in his light.

– DIANA DER-HOVANESSIAN –

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“Coming to rest…”

For five years, I have been writing about my father and his gradual decline. On September 5, the 21st anniversary of my mother’s death, I sat with him outside in the afternoon sunlight. He was tired, drifting off. His hands, as always, were cold. His lungs sounded moist and when I said good-bye, I felt my throat tighten. I tried to shrug off my sadness. The relentless thought, “The end is near.” Followed by, “I’ve had this thought a hundred times before.” Our ritual, unchanged: “Bye, Dad. I love you. I’ll see you soon…” His answer always, “Hope so…”

There is no good way to die. There is no way to adjust, to prepare or to steel yourself against the loss. It happens when it happens, in the way it happens.

On October 3, the phone rings in the wee hours of the morning. “We’re sending Dad to the ER, his fever has spiked…” I breathe, I roll over and go back to sleep. I arrive at the hospital as he is being transferred to a private room; as always, in sight of the nurse’s station. Three bags on the IV pole. He is clammy and very tired.

On October 4, my husband and I visit him together. He’s alert, talkative, animated. I feed him applesauce that is left over from his lunch tray. Then some chocolate pudding. Then thickened cranberry juice. His usual ecstasy…”this is delicious! What is it?”

On October 5, my daughter Grace arrives. We have lunch in Beacon and make the drive across the county to the new hospital in Middletown. He is unresponsive, very pale, breathing hard, chest rattling. The nurse hears us trying to rouse him and with one look says, “I don’t like this.” She’s on the phone, “Code Blue.” Immediately there are ten people in the room. Two machines. A doctor, aides, respiratory therapist, nurses. They surround the bed. No blood pressure. Can’t find the heartbeat or pulse. Get the doptone. Scratchy sounds. Faint beating. It’s 4:09. I text my brother…”Dad not good. Unresponsive.”

The doctor kneels in front of me, acknowledges the DNR. The room empties. Grace and I hold each other. We text, we call family, we cry. We open iTunes and play Ode to Joy. His hands twitch, as if preparing to conduct the orchestra. Our family gathers. Twilight becomes darkness. We sit together, talk with him, touch him, hold his hands. Periodically, his eyes open a crack. His breathing gradually settles, slows…softens. Softer, slower. Space between the end of the out breath and the next in breath. Softer. The gap widens between breaths…until the last soft breath.

MOMENT OF INERTIA

It’s what makes the pancake hold still

while you slip the spatula under it

so fast it doesn’t move, my father said

standing by the stove.

All motion stopped when he died.

With his last breath the earth

lurched to a halt and hung still on its axis,

the atoms in the air

coming to rest within their molecules,

and in that moment

something slid beneath me

so fast I couldn’t move.

– DEBRA SPENCER –

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