A friend from college passed away this morning. Except for a reunion several years ago I hadn’t been in contact with him for many years. Even still, I felt the impact of his passing. I’m told he rebounded from a coma and the brink of death several weeks ago, giving his family precious unexpected time together – a gift, I am sure, they will treasure forever. I know this because I had a similar experience with my father.
My dad had slipped into a semi-conscious state as a result of brain swelling, leaving him, for the most part, unresponsive to his surroundings. The edema was in the sleep center of the brain causing his illness to manifest in odd ways. He could see us and knew who we were but he didn’t interact with anyone. He could eat but had trouble swallowing. His legs, although sound, would not support him. To be blunt, the light was on but no one was home.
I was honored to be with him in his final weeks and help my mother care for him. Every day we struggled to attend to basic needs that he was no longer able to do for himself. We had begun to talk about a long-term nursing facility.
That’s when it happened.
It was a morning like any other. I awoke ready to take on the daily tasks of caregiving when I heard a strange noise coming from the bathroom down the hall, one most often used by guests and, in a previous world, by my father for his morning routine. I got up to see what was going on. In my bleary morning-eyed vision I saw my dad standing in front of the sink with a towel wrapped around his waist, having already showered, and holding a razor to his chin. My amazement could not be understated. This was a man who, just the day before, could not even stand on his own, and here he was going about his business just as he had for nearly 81 years. Once I overcame the initial shock, the only words to spill out of my mouth were, “What are you doing?” He looked at me as if I was crazy and laughed. “I’m shaving.” He was shaving. Shaving! My mind raced to the previous day when I’d had to bear hug him in an effort to get him to the portable commode. This was not the same person; this was my father reborn, with no memory of his decline or the passage of time.
I ran to get my mother, who was also astounded at my father’s sudden reversal of status. We opted not to tell him about his health problems until my brother could get there and, together, we could share the arduous task of explaining to him what had transpired over the previous weeks. When my brother arrived we sat down and told my father of his illness. It was a fact of life he had difficulty accepting, after all, to him nothing had changed, it was just another day. Eventually, he accepted the news with all its uncertainty about his long-term prospects, although I suspect he seriously doubted our sanity at that moment. I didn’t blame him. It sounded preposterous, even to me as I was living through it. And in my secret heart I hoped that it was indicative of a change in diagnosis.
I share this story today upon the passing of my college friend not because he and my father are both gone, but because of the beautiful gift they gave to their respective families as they made their transitions. Time. More time, to be specific. In my case, it was a day that I value above all others. My father and I spent it in each other’s company, and I at least was cognizant that it was borrowed time. We sat outside in the fresh air enjoying the pleasant sun and warm breeze. We talked. I let him use my iPod to listen to soothing classical music. We talked some more. I noticed subtle changes in him as the day wore on and evening approached. Much like the character Charlie Gordon in Flowers for Algernon, he began to slip away. By the next morning all semblance of normal had disappeared and within the week he had passed on.
Memories of that day give me peace now that he’s gone. I look back on it and smile.
I pray the borrowed time they’ve had will give the same peace to those who loved my college friend. #RIP