12 years ago today I had my last conversation with my dad. In my life I had seen him cry only four times. This was one.
I was home from Jackson for the weekend. Tom had already said I could take as much time off as I needed. Dad had been in bed for almost two weeks at this point.
Being home was a struggle. I took the opportunity to escape to the mountains, to fish. I had recently revisited an area near where it had all started, my home water.
I was salty and sun kissed but felt refreshed after spending the day wet wading up the creek with my fly rod in hand.
I returned home and went into his room. I kneeled at the side of his bed. He was awake, lying on his back, looking up at the ceiling as I spoke.
“Hi dad, I went fishing today.”
“Where?” He said barely audible, his mouth dry and his tongue cracked.
“How was it?”
“It was good. We hiked in below pole bridge. We caught a lot of fish.”
I shared with him the day’s adventure and I could see his eyes light up. His eyes still looking up at the ceiling but dancing around as his memory took him to this place he knew well.
As my story ran thin I said
“I need to go now dad.”
“I need to go back to work now.”
“I need to go work.”
“Why?” Tears started trickling down his check.
“I’ll be back in a few days.”
“I’ll see you soon.”
I got up and left.
The next few days I would call home daily and ask how were things? Mom would answer very somberly. “Still the same.” I would recall the conversation we had and feel somewhat comforted.
A few days later I returned back home. I walked into his room to see him lying there heart beating and chest breathing, but he was all but gone.
I turned to my mom somewhat upset.
“I thought you said he was the same?”
“Yeah, this is how he’s been.”
“No, when I left I had a conversation with him. We talked about fishing.”
She was somewhat confused as was I, not understanding what the other was saying.
July 1st, Paul, Jenny, K and I, at the instruction of mom, got out of the house for a while. We went to the river. We floated a section he loved to take out of town guests. It was a somber float. Not much talking, no slashing or smiles like one would expect from a hot summer day on the river. Just a lot of inward reflection.
We returned home. K and I stopped to change into dry clothes. I was distracted by my neighbor for a few moments as we talked about a landscape project. After a conversation about which plants to plant and where we headed to the house. I drove quite quickly for some reason for the six block journey. The phone rang as we were making the last turn. We didn’t answer because we were seconds away from turning into the driveway.
We parked and ran inside. Paul was kneeling at his side, mom and Jenny standing near. He was gone. Moments before he had breathed his last breath. He was gone. And I wasn’t there. To say goodbye.
I sat stunned. I didn’t cry. I was confused. He was finally gone. I wasn’t there. I missed him, as he left.
Phone calls were made. The news was shared. “He’s gone.” Arrangements were made. It was over.
We went to the backyard. It was a warm evening. We sat and talked quietly, while he was taken away, perhaps about the days to come. But feeling numb we didn’t say much at all.
We returned upstairs and he was gone.
“I have to go to work now dad.”…but I didn’t. These were the last words I spoke to my father. I didn’t have to go. I chose to. I could have stayed and talked about fishing. But I didn’t.