Quiet Room

When my father died, the top of my head came off and vitality rushed in.

My dad was the last in a long line of family deaths, five in nine years. Only one was a heartbreaker, and she was the first. The other four were expected, long lives ending at 85, 86, 87, my personal Olympians falling one by one: expected deaths, mostly in gentle circumstances. I gave thanks for them, but that long season of death was protracted and exhausting.

And so he was the last one.

Maybe it’s the lighting in an ICU; maybe it’s the result of sitting at eye level with someone: your seat at their bedside. But in Dad’s room, I saw that his eyes were a deep, rich blue, like the ocean, like agate, like that photo of Earth taken from outer space. Until then, I would have told you his eyes were light blue, like steel and ice. But no.

He stayed too long in that goddamned ICU, but that was because there was hope that he would come out of the anaesthetic delirium when all his vital signs were steady and his blood was good. It never happened, though, and finally he was moved to a quiet room, tasteful, still as death, where he waited us out, his two very middle-aged children, until we bade him goodnight and safe journey and went home to our beds. He died alone, at 3 in the morning.

When I was a teenager, he told me about having dinner out, where, despite his usual questioning, something he was served must have had peanuts in it, or traces of them. “I got up and went to the men’s room right away,” he said. “Boy, I thought I was going to have to lie down on the floor. It was awful. But finally I started to feel better.”

I said, “Did you tell anyone you were having an allergic reaction?”

He shook his head.

“Do you mean you’d rather die on a bathroom floor somewhere than ask somebody for help?”

He smiled a little and said nothing.

So yes, he waited us out, in order to die in his own company.

Then I crashed into the worst depression I have ever known – the worst and the most dangerous. But with it came mental intensity that was pure gift. I was in terrible pain and I related to God with pure directness. I could barely drag myself through the days, and nothing distracted me from God. When the ice-cold weight on my chest threatened to crush me, I had these words, which I said again and again: Don’t leave me.

February 10, 20221 COVID-19 Infections and Deaths

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