The hospice bed occupied a large portion of the living room. Ha! — the living room. Dad was dying and it wouldn’t be much longer now. I hadn’t realized the stillness of our melancholy would be punctuated by the sounds of Dad’s death rattle. Nor did I know that he would slip into a coma-like sleep as the cancer, coursing through his body, began shutting down his internal life support systems. It unsettled us all.
We took turns sitting alongside him, holding his hand in ours as we memorized the lines in his drawn, shrunken face, the twinkle in his brown eyes long since extinguished. We sought reassurance every few minutes that he was indeed still breathing. Once, when my mourning asserted itself in a low, wretched wail, the depths of my anguish more pronounced than any grief I’d ever known, my mother scolded me.
“Stop it. You’ll upset your father”.
A memory, unbidden, startled me at that moment. I was reminded of the time my mother visited my kindergarten classroom. Thrilled that she was there, I eagerly twisted my small six-year-old frame for a glimpse of her sitting behind us — a small group of little ones seated on our colorful nap rugs — happily expectant that she would return the huge smile I offered her. Instead, she shook her finger and sternly admonished me to turn around and pay attention to the teacher.
My father was leaving me and now I had two conflicting states of mind to grapple with: this paralyzing, numbing sadness and the frustration (and hurt) of yet again being shamed for expressing my emotions, each time having been inspired by love.