'I had rehearsed the scene in my mind for months. The phone would ring one day at work any my mother would say, "You had better come home. Daddy died this morning."
I could never decide if I would bother to pack a change of clothes or if I would just go straight to the airport and catch the next plane to Boston.
But the call came one Thursday night at home. There were no need to rush out to the airport that night, my mother said, because the doctor thought that he would live a few more days, maybe even a few more weeks.
At the hospital on Friday afternoon, I said hello to my father and then went out into the hall to cry. When my father was first sick, I vowed that I would never cry in front of him because I knew that would upset him. Whatever I would go home for a weekend, we would stay up late laughing and talking. We both knew that he was dying, but we never talked about it. There were too many other things he wanted to tell me about himself. On those weekends I would always have a headache from holding back the tears.
Early Sunday morning the phone rang. His blood pressure was dropping. Could we come to the hospital right away?
I told my mother that I did not want to go. I couldn't watch him die. But my mother would have none of this selfishness. There was still one more thing we had to do for him. My father had said good-bye to my mother on Wednesday before he went to the hospital.He was a doctor and knew better than anyone else that he probably would not come home again. He had only one request for my mother: Hold his hand as he died.
From 8:30 a.m. we took turns holding his hand. He would sleep for a few minutes and then wake up, agitated, struggling to turn over. "It's okay, Dad," I would say when it was my turn. "We're all here. You're going to be all right." At the sound of a familiar voice, he would quiet down, his hand tightly gripping mine.
At one point my sister leaned over to me and said, "You know, after this is over, you and I could coach each other through labor with no trouble at all." Indeed, it seems that it is just as hard to get out of this world as to get into it.
As it grew dark outside the window, I realized that a whole day had passed. On the last day of my father's life, other people had had a normal Sunday, reading the papers and watching the games on television.
We had been at the hospital for almost 12 hours and my father, who seemed so near to death that morning, had rallied. We were exhausted and I wanted my mother to go home and rest for awhile. But she would not leave. A nurse brought in pillows and blankets for us.
My father was sleeping, so we settled into chairs and closed our eyes. How could I feel so peacefully drowsy knowing that Death was in the room? Suddenly I realized that the room was too quiet. He had stopped breathing.
I ran for the nurse. His heart kept beating for another half hour. Another nurse came and sat with us and showed my sister how to feel for the pulse in my father's neck.
"Let's all look up at the ceiling and wave," I said. "Everything I've ever read about people who die and are brought back to life says that they feel themselves floating up to the ceiling and looking down at the doctors working over their bodies."
"He sees you already," said the nurse.
We all looked up, and for a few minutes in this dimly-lit hospital room there was something mystical about death.
Finally my sister siad, "I don't think I feel a pulse anymore."
He was dead, but I didn't feel sad yet. If my father had to die, then this was the way to do it -- with everyone around him so that no one had to be afraid.
While we waited for the doctor to come and pronounce him dead, I kept looking over at the bed, expecting to see something horrible. But I only saw my father and there was no reason to be afraid of him.
We kissed him goodbye. "See you later, Dad," said my sister.
We went out into the cold night air. I felt as if I had just come out of an exam in college -- tired, sweaty and stiff from sitting too long.
At home the three of us poured drinks. "To Dad," we said, our glasses raised to give him a proper send-off.
"Why don't you sleep down here with us?" my mother said to me. "You don't want to sleep upstairs by yourself tonight."
I was in bed before I started to cry.