24 October 2005

Hands

I didn’t realize until now that it is possible for certain moments to move too fast and too slow, both at the same time.

One month with my dad was far too little time. Every day but two was spent in a hospital room, with nurses shuffling in and out to take blood pressure, hang a new IV bag, or deliver a tray of lunch that rarely got eaten. All except for the cup of frozen sorbet, which dad always welcomed with wide eyes. If I lapsed too long between strawberry mouthfuls, he’d muster enough strength to sweetly but eagerly say, “come on,” and motion at the spoon.

On good days we'd talk, remembering back to our father-daughter trips from years ago: snow-skiing in Tahoe, a tour of Napa Valley. We also attempted to tie up loose ends using a bag of his mail and my laptop—some days I was his stockbroker, other days I made phone calls or balanced his checkbook. One afternoon, he even had me post feedback on his month-old Ebay auctions. That was my dad…even though he knew he had days left on earth, he wanted to make sure he checked every single thing (urgent or not) off his list.

Some days I just sat and held his hand while he slept, my smaller fingers cupped around his. His hands were soft and barely scarred (the hands of an accountant), with just a few calloused and creviced places (from the time he spent working in the yard or fixing things around the house.)

Mostly I cherish the moments toward the very end, when he’d peek out from sleep and look around to find me. And the moments when he would say something utterly childlike and funny, still with a layer of dignity underneath. I found it so fascinating that the weaker my dad grew, the more he seemed to revert back to a much younger version of himself. He was so blatantly honest, but never harsh. He would just say what he liked and what he didn’t in the most efficient way it could be said. It was as though even his vocabulary knew there wasn’t time to waste.

One day when he was on a soft food diet, the nurse sneaked him a chocolate chip cookie, and his eyes lit up for the first time in awhile. He literally said, “A COOKIE!” in the tone of an eight year old who had just won first prize.

Another morning, we came in to find him struggling with his radio and earphones. He was fumbling to find a station. Jeremy scrolled around for a song and put it up to dad’s ears telling him he’d found some country music. The earbuds were barely in place before dad plainly blurted, “It sucks,” in the most matter-of-fact kind of way.

Those days just flew by way too fast. And you’d think that sitting in a hospital room all day would drag on and on, but it always seemed the minute hands had grown into two or three hours every time I glanced at the clock.

The time also went very slow. A month was a long time to be away from our home, from our pets, from our daily routine that's not quite as routine-- (park the car. take the elevator to the 4th floor. walk down the hall. pump two squirts of hand sanitizer. lay today’s newspaper on the table in case he wants to read it. pull the blue vinyl chair close to the bedside. sit. talk. look. weep. pray. talk some more. kiss forehead. say goodbye…maybe for the night, maybe forever.)

But more than any meager sacrifices Jeremy and I might have made, it was a long time...a slow time...to watch my dad go through such a thing as cancer and be helpless to do much of anything except to sit and hold his hand.

I was still holding it the moment that he passed away, and it’s a moment I will never forget. I didn’t let go for a long time after that. I’m not sure if it was five minutes or thirty, but I know it was a long, long time that was over in just the blink of an eye. And that was the hardest part of all.