The Very Very Very Very Last Goodbye


"My wife's coming to get me!" Dad told Donna his nurse, a friendly young Irish woman.

"We hear this a lot," she said. "It means they're close."

"After they go, a lot of them keep ringing the call button," said Irene, a pretty woman with long braids, in her West African accent. "There was one woman who liked her room very warm. After she passed, we turned the heat to cool. That lady rang the call button every day for about four months to complain about it!"

Irene and Donna are Dad's nurses and his best pals. Irene leaves bags of chocolates hidden in the old wheelchair in Dad's room. The nurses like to hang out in his room, watching TV with him and eating chocolate.

A year ago, he would have been flirting with them. He definitely would have yanked Irene's braids. Dad always loved female attention.

Six months ago, he still liked the buzz of women around him. These days, he rarely notices when anyone is in his room.

Three months ago, he would follow their movements with his eyes. He would nod his head when they said hello, he'd open his mouth for chocolate.

I said good-bye to him in January. The very, very, very last goodbye. I told him I forgave him and that I loved him. I'm not sure I really did forgive him, but I told him anyway. Dad hadn't been a warm and fuzzy sort of guy.

I used to come to California with a long list of his requested items, kosher hot dogs, eggrolls, apple pie, cookies and bananas. This time, all he wanted was a banana, which had to be broken up and hand-fed to him.

As if there weren't enough signs that time was growing short, the hotel that my girlfiend Delilah and I had come to call our home away from home because of the many, many visits to care for Dad was closing. The staff we now considered friends was being laid off.

Our bellman told us he worked there since 1986.

"What do I now?" he asked, shaking his head. I felt the same for another reason.

Believe what you want, but I have had a few visitors from the afterlife.

Days after my 20-year-old cat was cremated, she managed to jump on the bed for one last visit. The old chest that she would climb on rattled as she used it for a stepladder, then she hopped into the bed and slept on my girlfriend's head. That night in a quiet room, the old chest rattled. We both heard it.

I am also certain that my mother visited me after she passed. Scared the hell out of me. Sorry, Mom.

I kind of expected Dad's next visit to be from the afterlife, too, but in March of 2016, his hospice nurses called me to Los Angeles for one last goodbye. The very, very, very, very last goodbye.

When Dad finally opened his eyes for me, the glassy, zombie stare came not toward me but into the left corner of the ceiling near his bed. There were no people, photos or mirrors there. But he was only interested in what he alone saw there.

A chaplain reciting a Jewish prayer about David offered comfort: "When we are babies, there are no walls, and when we are old or dying, the walls to the other place come down. He is seeing the new place."

Mostly he did not open his eyes, but the nurses said he liked my voice.

He knew I was there at least once, when suddenly, shockingly, he responded to my voice and seemed to look toward me. He said something that sounded like "How ya!"

That was enough for me, one special moment: a moment to tuck away, and pull out whenever I feel guilt or remorse.

Death is familiar to me now.

When my handsome friends began to die, one by one, of AIDS in the '80s, it seemed like a dark blanket had covered the world.

When my mother died of heart failure on her way home to meet me for Rosh Hashanah, it took a year for me to accept that she was gone. Maybe that is why the Jewish religion has the unveiling of the tombstone one year later. We need that year.

I have been saying good-bye to my dad since May of 2012, when he fell in the shower and was not found for 24 hours.

He embarked on four years of steady decline, first not walking, then not using the bathroom, then not feeding himself, then not leaving the bed, hardly opening his eyes, no longer speaking and finally refusing all food, only allowing liquids.

I know the next place is calling him.

I tell myself Dad is going home.

I have come to Los Angeles to say good bye to him one more time, the very, very, very, very last goodbye.

Goodbye, Daddy. Until we meet again in the other place.

Better close the lights on your way out, or Mom will give you an earful. You know how she hates to waste electricity.