“I love you.”
“I love you too.”
That’s what Daddy and I said to each other last Sunday, when we had our last good visit. As I crossed the parking lot to my car, I realized that he hadn’t ended our conversation with what he always says when one of us is leaving–“Be careful. I don’t have any extra children.”
He had said it to me and my sister two weeks before when we visited. I remember it clearly because Little Gay chuckled, “Now THAT sounds like Daddy!”
I sat there in my car with the nagging fear that I wouldn’t ever hear it again.
I was right.
I’ve talked to him since then, but he hasn’t been able to talk to me. Now we are caught in the exruciating in-between.
My dad has been sick for a long time. My Daddy has been gone for a while now. The strong arms with their topography of scars from angry cats and terrified dogs. The voice that called me Shug. The finger that pointed up at the ceiling when he was about to say something funny. That kissing sound he made to call a dog in for some scratching behind the ears. Even the terrible cheese dip that he made in the microwave and brought out to the little metal table by the pool. All gone.
But his body is still here. He is in between worlds and we are too. Kind people say, “I’m sorry for your loss,” and I think “but he’s still alive.” Then there are the people who say, “I hope he gets better” and I can’t find words to say, “That is impossible.”
For a week, we’ve all hovered somewhere in this excruciating in-between. Alone in their house, I cannot bring myself to sit in his chair in the library because it’s Daddy’s Chair. I had no problem sitting in it before, but now I am caught between that comforting memory and the idea that he won’t ever sit there either. In his room at the hospice, I sit nearby on the narrow loveseat but not next to him. That’s my father, right there…but my daddy doesn’t seem anywhere nearby. In-between.
So I go to Griffin for my turn to sit on watch but I can’t do it. And there is nothing but “it” to do. So I go to work to stay busy and it helps some, but every time my phone rings my heart stops. We run out of milk, even in this strange fatherless world, so I go to the grocery store and I buy things that G can cook in case I need to go. I take my kids out shopping for school clothes and I surreptitiously make sure they have something somber to wear for the day that I will soon have to explain to them. But I don’t tell them yet because we are caught in-between.
This isn’t my first time walking down this path. My late husband died at home and I was his caregiver. Richard never gave in to the idea of dying; even as his body disintegrated around his brave heart, he fought. In the small hours of his last night, while he stumbled around our bedroom barely able to speak, he drew together a moment of lucidity and said, “This is a rough patch.” I sat on the edge of the bed in the half-dark and tried to believe him.
He was in hospice care for about nine hours total between me signing the paperwork and his last breath. There wasn’t a lot of room for in-between. There wasn’t much time for “the forethought of grief” as Wendell Berry calls it. There was busy-ness and then there was grief.
None of this excruciating in-between.