It didn’t begin with the inevitable phone call, but months before, after a visit to a physician. We all knew at some point this time would come, but somehow when the doctor’s predicted timeline was surpassed, we began to push the thought into those deep, dark recesses of our brain. Never quite forgotten, but not in the forefront of our daily ponderings.
Then, last week on a Thursday morning, it came followed by the mindless packing of clothing into a suitcase (without caring if anything matched), calling our sons, stopping the mail and the newspaper, and watering the plants. Hours of driving were filled with the quiet of reflection, grief, and disbelief. Each action seemed to be only possible because of our bodies’ repetition over the years of those same maneuvers.
Pressing a button and waiting impassively for the voice on the intercom to allow us entry into the facility. A deep breath is taken to steel my emotions and then I’m ready to walk down the hall to begin the vigil.
Soft-voiced greetings and tight hugs accompanied by silent tears as each family member and friend is welcomed. Hours, and then, days filled with endless cups of coffee, prayers, thank-you’s to staff members and visiting friends, and sleepless nights wondering if tonight the call will come announcing a change in condition.
Family members show the physical signs from the toll the vigil has taken on them with the presence of dark circles under their eyes and the weariness apparent in their every movement and expression. Even their smiles are muted by fatigue and the dam of unleashed sorrow.
On a Sunday morning at 3:24 am, the cell phone’s ringtone causes our muscles to tense up ready to spring into action. The silence is heavy with anguish as mechanically and efficiently we pull our clothes on, brush our teeth and walk out the door knowing, but dreading…
The vigil’s conclusion brought peace to a wonderful man who had lived a full and productive life and died surrounded by family in his final hours. And for his family, its end gave us a chance to say good-bye and to show our love for a father, grandfather, and friend. The suffering of our loved one had come to an end.
Rest in peace, Papa John.