The family reeled with this news and my mother started to fall apart under the crushing certainty the man she had shared nearly her entire life with was going to die. With one sister in Toronto on the phone, the rest of us huddled together in the family room while he underwent this massive surgery. My younger sister and mother prayed together and passed a bible between themselves, pointing out chapters and verses and nodding. The older sister in Toronto was beside herself and phoned continually. Unable to take any more stress, my mother insisted I deal with her. I listened as she quoted bible texts and tried to justify her behavior over the years. With the phone pressed to my aching ear, I nodded wearily and let my mind drift away.
I was overwhelmed with guilt. Sitting in that little pastel-colored room with its soothing lavender and yellow couches and chairs, I flogged myself. Everywhere I looked I could see the words I had written about his funeral and I wondered if destroying those disks would cure him. My stomach felt like a whirlpool and I almost gagged at the sight of the food the hospital had brought for us. Every time the phone rang, I glared at it with abhorrence and fury. The only thing that kept me from ripping it out of the wall was the sorrow on my mother’s face. She didn’t need the incessant frantic questions from Toronto. What she needed was a call from her God to tell her everything was going to be all right.
When the doctor walked into the room, he was met with eyes that begged for hope, yet were filled with despair. He explained the operation had gone well and that Dad was in the recovery room and would be taken to intensive care when he awoke. Approaching Mom, he took her hands in his slender, talented grasp and held them tightly. His kindness broke through my agony and brought tears and I left the room and stood out in the hall as I wept. He patted me on the back as he left and I shook my head in amazement as I watched his green-sheathed figure disappear into the doctor’s lounge. Behind me, the phone rang – again.
As Dad lay in intensive care, intubated and sedated, I watched my mother anxiously. I worried the stress would be too much for her damaged heart and I tried to ease the strain for her. I tried to insulate her from the every day operations of the store, and drove her to the hospital when she wanted to visit. On the day we arrived and he was conscious, I hurriedly found a chair for her in case she collapsed. She sat patting the back of his hand and crying and I gave them some time alone. It was a good excuse to go and find a phone to let my siblings know that he was awake.
He remained in the intensive care unit for another day. When they took the tube out of his throat and he could swallow water, they moved him to a private room. The doctor called the family together once again and we gathered at the foot of the hospital bed. He told us about the cancer they had found and how unique it was. We were then taken through the steps Dad would need to go through as he healed from the operation.
When the doctor left the room, the family hovered at the foot of the bed. I watched as Dad coughed and coughed, trying to hack up the phlegm that plagued his throat. It was heavy and sticky and the Kleenex he used in an attempt to wipe it all away was useless. Entering the bathroom, I ran a facecloth under warm water. Standing beside him, I wiped his face and took the sodden Kleenex away each time he coughed. Looking down the bed it was obvious the rest of the family was horrified and disgusted. They remained there until a nurse came in and told us he should rest. I wiped his face once more and put the facecloth on the nightstand. After moving the Kleenex to within easy reach, I bent and kissed him on the forehead and whispered ‘I love you Dad’ before leaving the room.
I stood outside with my brother for a moment as Mom said her goodbyes. She was going to ride home with her son and I just wanted to share a quiet moment with him. Finally, with a small smile of hope, I touched his arm and left.
The next day I sat at my desk trying to catch up on paperwork and problems that had occurred while Mom and I were busy at the hospital. Around noon Mom entered and sat down at her desk, almost worn out. I knew she had been to the hospital and I was anxious to hear of his condition today. When I heard he was improving I was torn with emotions. Even though he hadn’t talked to me in almost four years, I couldn’t stop caring.
“By the way,” Mom said in a strange voice. ‘He doesn’t want you coming back to see him again.’
‘Does that mean all of us Mom?’
‘No.’ she said. ‘Just you.’