Lose them to other people’s memories, or preserve them forever?
When my father died in his bed, nearly all of his small family were with him in his bedroom where we’d set up the folding chairs.
There we sat, five or six people of various ages, staring at a shrunken and wasted man who was dying of cancer at only 59 years old. In the bedroom next door slept his only grandchild, who would turn one year old tomorrow.
It had been a torturous five-year struggle and although we didn’t want to lose him, we wanted him to be finished suffering. I was at the foot of the bed where my father — the mighty man who could once fix or build anything, who lifted his children off the floor as we hung on his biceps — lay gurgling through his final breaths. Such long pauses separated each one, we’d all look at each other… surely this was his last?
Suddenly, I saw us as cold spectators to an isolated man’s last moments before taking the journey we all take alone. I couldn’t bear that he was by himself while we all stared with our still-healthy eyes.
So I crept carefully onto the bed.
There was a quiet collective gasp of surprise.
I lay my body alongside my father’s skeletal frame in the most intimate moment I’d ever known with him, and started talking quietly.
“Dad, it’s OK to let go now. You were a great father; you did a wonderful job. We’re all here, loving you and sending you on your way. Thank you for all you did and gave us, Dad. It’s OK to be done now. I love you, Dad. It’s OK to let go.”
One by one, the family began to slide forward, pulling their chairs closer, touching the bed or his clothes or sitting next to him, each saying their own last precious words of love.
My mother who’d nursed him and comforted him through his cancer fear, anger, and despair, sighed and nodded from the foot of the bed. All the important things had long been said between them. They’d held each other for so long — through so much — that she let everyone else get in close for their last touch. “Let go, Honey,” she said, “Let go, my love.”