Monday, September 20, 2010

A Time to Rest

Posted By on Mon, Sep 20, 2010 at 11:27 AM

A hospital room at 11:00 p.m. The only sounds are the ticking of a cheap wall clock and my father's shallow breathing. I know now which will stop first. My father is dying, off life-support. It seems surreal to imagine his breath ceasing, his life finished, but it is close, or so say all the nurses and doctors.

"His organs are shutting down," the last one said, as she checked his "vitals." They are the professionals, as used to death as they are to changing feeding tubes, taking blood pressure, giving shots of pain-killer. They are kind but no-nonsense. They know how this ends.

William Wells VanWyngarden
  • William Wells VanWyngarden

He's been given heavy sedatives and he appears to be comfortably sleeping. Nothing in his appearance would give away the fact that he is dying. He looks as though he could awaken and begin a conversation about Mizzou football or the damn Democrats or my Mom's cinnamon rolls. But he can't, and hasn't been able to for months. His mind moved on. His body lingered behind, and ended up in this hospital room, where a clock ticks off the seconds, where time is measured in shallow breaths.

I heard a joke on the radio today, as I drove the 400 miles from Memphis to Mexico, Missouri: A well-dressed elderly gentleman walks into a bar, sits down, and orders a vodka martini. After a sip, he turns to the woman sitting next to him and says, "So ... do I come here often?"

I laughed when I heard it, and thought of my father, who would have loved the joke, as he loved all corny jokes. And as he loved his wife of 57 years, who at 90 was the only one who could communicate with him in these last months, and who fed him and bathed him and picked him up when he fell — every time, until now. This time, I think her magic has run out. The doctors have spoken; the clock has spoken — is speaking, marking the last hours of a good, kind man who played trumpet in big bands, fought the Japanese across the Pacific, drove a jeep through the ruins of Hiroshima, came back to his hometown, bought a house, fathered four children, played lots of bogey golf, and loved his wife to the end of his 88 years on this earth.

They're not making men like that anymore. And now the docs say it's just a matter of time.

It always is. Get some rest, Dad.

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