I did not stay at my father’s bedside, to be with him until he passed. There he was, right upstairs in the bedroom, while I hid like a coward downstairs and out of sight. We knew it would be that night. The doctors had called the family in and said so.
All his brothers and sisters, the aunts and uncles I grew up with, had been pretty much staying at my parents’ house for those last weeks. The pasta pots were always boiling. They brought Italian bread and provolone cheese and sweet salami with big green olives. Most importantly, they brought the black humor which is our family trademark , especially during our darkest hours. It sustained us and carried us.
And yet, there was an age regression that took place for me. At age 32, they were still the grown ups and I was like a child again. That’s just how the dynamics morphed. When it was soon to be time, my favorite aunt had a talk with me and asked me if I really wanted to watch my father die. She explained to me, 32 going on 8, that dying was not like in the movies. It was quite a frightening thing to see. She encouraged me to have my quiet time alone with him, now in a coma, and say my good-bye. I did so. Then I walked out of the room and all his siblings and my mother went in and the door was firmly closed.
And so he died with his wife, brothers and sisters all around and me nowhere in sight. They later said it was an awful thing. Blood and God knows what everywhere. Even his brothers were shaken by it. It was not something I should have had to see, they told me. As if they had protected me from something.
But not long after, I realized it was my own father’s awful thing. I should have been there. I allowed myself to be shielded by my beloved and well meaning aunt with childlike trust. I should have been there. I was not a child. I was not, in truth, protected or shielded. I was written out of the last line of the last page of his life. No, we wrote me out.
And I am so ashamed, sorry, and regretful… What if my father knew or sensed I wasn’t there, right through the invisible walls of his coma? My shame is this: that I, his oldest and most responsible child, should have accompanied him on the final stage of his journey. I should have been there.
No tidy ending to this post. I should have been there.
(This post was inspired by a poem by Cordie entitled: If I had it to do all again)