My dad was in the hospital disconnected from IV fluids for about sixteen days before he finally died. And while there was an element of horror to those days -- weeks -- of waiting for it to be over, some happy memories have emerged for me over the past few months. I was not there for the entire sixteen days. I had to come and go a few times so it was probably more like ten, but we'll use poetic license and I'll list a happy memory for each day.
I don't remember if I've told you this, but Agatha was at the hospital with us every day that I was there. She accompanied me on every drive to and from Milwaukee, she slept overnight at the hospital when I stayed overnight, and if I had been there on the actual day he died, she would have been there, too. My other children chose to remember Grampa the way he was and stayed behind, but Agatha saw it differently. She was not going to miss one possible moment of Grampa.
On more than one occasion a visitor would arrive and mistake thirteen-year-old Agatha for me: we all experience that phenomenon of believing that though we age, the people we don't see for years stay exactly as we remember them. There were times when I felt like I was both Agatha and me, seeing my father's death as both a child and as an adult.
I've been thinking about this post for awhile: sixteen memories is a lot of heavy reading. There is only so much we're willing to read about death, especially someone else's experience of the death of a person we've never met. It's the Perlman way to discuss, in a circular fashion, every minute of the event in a verbal post mortem until everyone's experience has been noted and annotated. I use the term "discuss" generously. More accurately, we take turns in our soliloquy. We jockey for position as we convey what we felt, what we think OFD felt, and who, in fact, our father was. But I don't write just for Perlmans, and I certainly don't write just for me.
I will never believe that anyone does.
With that in mind, I'm going to break this post up over several days, with maybe four memories a day. They will be listed in no particular order, and there may even be an intermission in the form of a knitting-related post.
1) After a few days of sleeping at the hospital, we all knew which chairs folded out in a comfortable, bed-like fashion and which chairs were instruments of torture. It was at least ten days into the experience when Lo had to fly back to California. Since she was going to be leaving very early in the morning, she volunteered to sleep in the least comfortable chair: a La-Z-Boy style recliner. I'd like to say that Mom, Agatha and I made a pretense of gamely offering to take the recliner, but we treated every lights-out time like a life and death battle of musical chairs. No one gave Lo an argument.
As I was sleeping in surprising comfort in a chair that folded out into a cot, I was awoken several times by the sound of creaking metal, followed immediately by cursing. Clearly, Lo was having difficulty getting comfortable in her chair. After the third time I was woken in this manner, I finally sat up to see what, exactly, was going on in Lo's personal battle of man vs. machine. I watched her for a few moments. Just as she started to doze off, the recliner would attempt to close, snapping Lo forcibly into an upright position and causing her to jump up with the startle reflex of a newborn. Hence, the cursing.
2) At some point around day eight, I was alone with my dad. I think the others were at lunch, or picking Aunt Marilyn up from the airport -- days spent in the hospital tend to run together. Dad was asleep and I was just starting to doze off when Matt and Mary Flynn -- family friends, to put it mildly -- came for a visit. When they saw Dad was asleep they offered to come back a little later, and asked if there was anything they could bring back for me when they returned.
I said, "I'd like a roast beef sandwich on white bread with tomato, no mayo, and just a small amount of mustard. Also a bag of chips -- regular flavor, and a Coke. And an oatmeal cookie with raisins." I felt no embarrassment at taking them up on their offer, and I knew they were not asking if I needed anything in that off-hand way people do when the last thing they expect is for you to say "yes."
I'm of the mind that when someone offers to help and he really means it, the worst thing you can do is be vague and say, "Oh, any kind of snack would be great." It was the most delicious lunch I've ever had: the poignant combination of extreme circumstances and close friends.
3) I think it was day four when Hen said, "Dad, this is the most time I've ever spent with you without getting annoyed!" That sounds potentially insulting, but OFD saw being impossible as merely a side-effect of his genius.
4) I don't remember how many times Agatha and I drove from Northbrook to Milwaukee and back again, or from the hospital to my parents' house. I said good-bye to my dad not once but many, many times since there was always the potential that he might die before our return. During one of the times Agatha said good-bye to OFD, he slowly reached out his hand, took her hand and brought it to his lips. Agatha teared up at the very surprise of it, but immediately steeled herself.
Agatha was surprised because my dad was not a hand-kisser. It was completely beyond the realm of expected behavior for him, and because of this, the kiss spoke volumes. The kiss said, I recognize that it is no small thing for a thirteen year old to march unflinchingly through a death-watch with no break in composure. But because I know exactly who you are, I am not surprised.