“You say goodbye, and I say hello”
The call came 3 weeks ago from my mother telling me that I had better hop on a plane to Houston right away as my father was swiftly declining. As some of you know, death is so hard to predict when people are suffering from a terminal illness and she was not sure how much time he had. I somehow felt that I needed to take two days to “wrap things up”, which seems so foolish now. But, it’s the being alone and doing everything for yourself (including working for yourself) that makes responsibility feel like such a weight. I don’t trust or feel that I can really count on anyone but myself…
(…a feeling that has been seriously challenged by so many friends that have swooped in and tagged team to help me with the animals, my house, etc. I suppose the lesson to that is to never live your life thinking you are on an island. If you feel that way, it’s only because you put yourself there.)
I flew into Houston on Saturday the 9th and arrived at my parents’ home around 3:00 p.m. By this time, my father was completely out of it; he had not eaten since Tuesday, his pulse was weak, his breathing labored. The first thing I did was tell him that I was there, that I loved him, that everything was taken care of…and then I told him that it was okay for him to let go. I chatted and caught up with my mom and Marilyn, the home healthcare aide. I talked to them about my life and what I was doing, about my clients, my writing, the groups I was leading and my volunteer work. My father’s illness had really brought home the value of spending every moment I can doing things I enjoy and surrounding myself with good people, taking care of my personal health, and doing work that I truly loved. At that moment in time, the roller-coaster of life was creeping uphill and not barreling downward, and I was excited to give him that peace of mind.
I grabbed jazz CD’s that I thought he might enjoy and played them on the small clock radio near his hospital bed. I buzzed back and forth between every room in the house because I can never sit still, but I always circled back to hold his hand, stroke his hair, and tell him I was there. Finally, I managed to settle down my nervous energy and pulled out my laptop to attempt to finish my dad’s eulogy and obituary. I looked over at some point a few minutes later and noticed that his chest had stopped moving. I waited and looked; his respiratory rate was so low, I thought that maybe there was another breath coming and it would just take a while. But, that was it. He took his last labored breath and died at 6:15 p.m. with only me by his bedside. The song playing on the clock radio was Ike Quebec’s “Easy- Don’t Hurt”.
I guess my family somehow expected it to be more dramatic than it really was. No bells and whistles. No visions or last words. He just stopped breathing and that was it…that was his big exit. I arrived and said hello and then he quickly said goodbye. Some people say that he waited for me; I’m not sure if I believe that. In my experience, life is a bit more chaos than coincidence. Inserting meaning into those coincidences is simply for solace.
He was there when I came into the world and I was there when he left. Not everyone gets that chance, so for that, I feel very fortunate. I will miss him more than I can explain or express in a blog post.
RIP Michael John Kirby, January 22, 1936 – April 9, 2011