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That April

The days stretched like an accordion as I watched his chest heave up and down. With every breath he took, I held a little of my own.

By Christina HunterPublished 3 years ago 7 min read
Top Story - August 2022
44
That April
Photo by Fleur on Unsplash

“Take my air, take my lungs, my heart and my liver,” I prayed.

There were mornings that April where time sped up, and I couldn’t keep up. What followed was a soundtrack of crashing and yelling and pulses keeping beat with the chaos. Tick-tick, tick-tick, tick-tick. Fragments of movements mixed with slow motion falls and quick-thinking recalls. The latter always followed by defeated phone calls.

“I can’t lift him. I need your help,” she would say.

Time is elastic when watching someone die. Emails, phone calls, all the temporary stuff of my day added up like bricks on my back. It all became petty, and yet I clung to it as a last tether to normalcy. Eventually life would pick back up. That April would push away from my memory like a rowboat leaving an abandoned island.

Nobody told us he was dying. In fact, they continued to give us hope in the way of unattainable appointments with specialists, miles away. It took three of us to hoist him onto his walker for these appointments, followed by a three-man parade down the deck stairs. My job was grabbing his swollen ankles. I inched my way backwards onto the driveway and finally to the car.

“The neighbours are looking,” he’d said. And they were.

We arrived at the specialist’s office 45 minutes later on that particular gray afternoon. The clouds draped the distance behind the building like a backdrop to a depressing play. We scanned the parking lot with worried faces as we searched for somewhere close to the entrance to park. I wished for a stretcher, an ambulance and a crew of people who knew what to do. Instead our three-man parade began again as we pulled into a space around the corner from the door. My 80-year-old uncle Don pushed from the back, my frazzled mom on one side and myself, again at the feet. It wasn’t a wheelchair. It was a walker. That was our mistake.

Once inside the lobby of the cramped liver specialist’s office, Mom stood at the desk, while the three of us huddled under a single pot light in the corner. His voice was low, like a child’s. I almost didn’t hear him.

“I’m slipping,” he said.

Suddenly time sped up - I grabbed under his arm and Uncle Don had his back. I felt his weight lean into my torso, along with the loss of control in his legs.

I screamed, “we need a wheelchair! A wheelchair!”

His heavy body slid out from under us, crashing to the floor. All that remained visible was his coat tangled around his head. Uncle Don and I were left holding two coat sleeves with no arms inside. Blood streaks covered my hands, my pants and his coat.

We begged for a man, or anyone with strength that could help this sad puddle of people on their lobby floor. Again, my voice cut through the air.

“We need a wheelchair,” I pleaded.

The words fell silently to the room of bewildered staff. Frozen time. Crashing and silence. This was now the sum of our days. Suddenly the receptionist seemed to understand and ran to the drug store across the road to fetch a temporary solution.

The blood was from my uncle’s hand, a boil had burst in the commotion. Dad was on the floor, lost in a half-world daze. I was thankful for a man who appeared from an office down the hall, at the same moment the wheelchair arrived. The three of us hoisted his body into the chair and for a moment I could hear that familiar tick-tick-tick of time at normal speed again.

Days went by like that. Hoisting, and hand holding. Desperate phone calls for help and then hours of sitting in silence. It was as if we were guardians of time itself, taking turns at the post. Wondering if Mom had eaten too. Slipping in and out of our daily lives. Emails to respond to, shifts at work versus shifts at the house. Compartmentalizing our lives into moments that April.

One afternoon a tall boulder of a nurse came to the side door with a shoe size resembling clown feet. She admitted what we had already speculated, that we didn’t need to feed him anymore. It was both a relief and a gut-wrenching punch. No more Boost or Ensure. No more hiding nutrients in smoothies and secret conversations about what’s been eaten and what’s been refused. But no more food also meant time was slipping away. We called the Doctor to stop by the house and shut his pacemaker and defibrillator off. Dad asked the Doctor in a heartbreaking plea if it could be turned back on again, in the event he improved. It was a tense few minutes when the Doctor reminded us the procedure to turn it off could trigger defibrillation. When we asked what that would look like, his mouth just set in a tight frown. We matched the mood of the skies that day, heavy and threatening to let go at any minute.

The hospital bed arrived late that afternoon. There was one more hoist from bed-to-chair, chair-to-bed, and finally all tucked in in my childhood bedroom. The view from the darkened hallway resembled a doorway to another world, another life. His quiet complaints and hallucinations passed the time. We sat in turns beside the bed. I read to him - a dry book he had recommended just weeks ago called The Betrothed. I read the words without even trying to form meaning. My mind searched my memories, trying to think of meaningful things to say while I held his clammy hand. Somewhere in the background Mr. Tambourine Man droned on. He loved Bob Dylan, and so we played his music every day that April.

It was dark when I left that evening. I peaked down the hallway to see Mom curled into that little hospital bed with him, stroking his cheeks. I thought for a moment how normal it seemed. My two parents in bed. How many nights as a child had I climbed into that scene? I stood for a moment watching as if it weren’t my life. As if I could turn the image off and the next moment open the door to a sunny little girl’s room. To Dad coming home to greet his family from work. To a house full of laughter and better days. I watched from the darkened hallway, a lifetime of fun as it comes undone.

I left them like that and said goodbye to my sister on the couch. As the stars appeared one by one outside, Mom’s hand softly stroking Dad’s cheek, and Bob’s twangy voice filling the empty spaces singing, to make you feel my love, I left out the side door.

If time was an elastic, it was about to snap.

The phone rang an hour later. It was Mom’s voice on the other end of the phone, so calm.

“Come over,” was all she said.

Scrambling in the dark I reached a trembling hand for my husband, before slipping back out into the darkness.

My walk was both quick and yet the air felt heavy like it was trying to protect me by pushing me to slow down, as I headed down the driveway and back inside. I found my sister on one side of the hospital bed, Mom on the other, pacing on the phone with the nurse. Panic returned to her voice. My brother arrived behind me. This could be a painting called love, I thought as we all found our places. A nest of love and grief. Time pulled and stretched as we sat there, similar to attending a birth. Life and Death. Blurred and yet so vivid. Words filled the air.

“It’s ok to let go.”

A Saint Christopher’s medal was placed in his palm, for his soul’s trip. Although it rained most of that April, somewhere between drizzles and downpours, the sky opened to blackness with pinholes of light that night.

We sat there, settled in that nest long after he’d left us. Candles lit, we shared laughter and tears, glasses of wine and whispers to his soul. It was Good Friday, and somewhere inside I just knew his soul chose this day to go.

The Early Years

The Final Christmas Before That April

grief
44

About the Creator

Christina Hunter

Author, Mother, Wife. Recipient of the Paul Harris Fellowship award and 2017 nominee for the Women of Distinction award through the YWCA. Climate Reality Leader, Zero-Waste promoter, beekeeper and lover of all things natural.

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Comments (33)

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  • Laura Lee2 years ago

    There is nothing more precíous than the memories that anyone can't take from us. I often recall many memories throughout the day of my dad. Although it's been nearly 8 yrs I still do not like to keep track of the time. But all my thoughts seem to have no time , for they are just constantly right there. I talk to dad everyday well at least anything feel I need his advice or help. I miss him so very much! Your piece was very real I could feel the emotion and the great care you took of your dad. My name is Laura I have never been a writer but a constant personal journal writer, when I ran across vocal I fell in love and kept putting off the challenges but I signed up and now I'm down to 41 hours left to finish the challenges due now lol, but I'm going to give it a shot. I hope all is well my friend. Thanks and God bless your family ❤️ Laura Hughes

  • Jeff Bonano2 years ago

    Wonderful and heart filled while tugging at those heartstrings at the same time. Well written too.

  • Lovely and accurate.

  • Rikke Kramme2 years ago

    What a beautiful and heartbreaking story, Christina🌸

  • Rebecca Ridsdale2 years ago

    Beautifully written! Brought tears to my eyes. 😘

  • This is gut-wrenchingly relatable. It had me crying about halfway through to the very end. Thank you for sharing!

  • A striking and heart rending experience all too similar to my own. Thank you very much for sharing this.

  • Jim Fritzen2 years ago

    Congratulations; a well desrved win. Compelling narrative that touches each reader since we've all been there. Thank you.

  • Beautiful and heart wrenching. Having been at the bedside of my dying brother, I related so much to this - that time is elusive, that it speeds up and regulates. That beauty and love coexist with the awful process of dying. Bravo for a terrible story, well told. You deserve the win.

  • Deasun T. Smyth2 years ago

    great story, you deserved to win

  • This is still medical issue in America... yes? Reminds me so much of our own trials since the 2013 prostate cancer/heart attack death of my brother, two other siblings and April2022 death of our mother. THE BEST IN MEDICAL CARE... right? a scary replay of our own crisis.

  • Ashmita Ghimire2 years ago

    As a nurse myself, who have seen and been through this scenario many times but only as a by-passer, I can somehow understand but not understand your feelings and emotion. It must have been challenging but fulfilling to be there for him until his last breath. This story you have written is an emotion of its own where others can see themself being inside the scene and watching it forehand. Bittersweet yet beautiful writing. Kudos to you.

  • Gerald Holmes2 years ago

    Thank you so much for writing this, it moved me in ways that brought tears and touched my soul. A very deserving win!!!!

  • Kim Loostrom2 years ago

    Heartfelt and touching, thank you for sharing!

  • Mhairi Campbell 2 years ago

    this was amazing, what beautiful writing

  • Donn K. Harris2 years ago

    Christina: Congratulations. The story is exquisitely written, wth lovely touches like "this could be a painting called love" and "it was similar to attending a birth." Your attention to the natural world and the details you chose enriched the story deeply.

  • Outstanding story, very touching. As a writer it can be difficult to bare ourselves for others to read, this was a blessing to read. God bless!

  • Ashley Gleason2 years ago

    This is beautiful. Having gone through the process of grief in losing my own father, I understand. Your writing is vivid and accurate. You deserved this win. Hugs, friend. 💕

  • Melissa Benson2 years ago

    This was so beautiful! I'm so sorry for your loss.

  • Stacey Mock2 years ago

    Beautifully written- heartbreaking as well. I was definitely crying- thank you for sharing and I'm so sorry for the passing of your father.

  • A.R2 years ago

    Congratulations! A well deserved win, beautifully written. I'm sorry for your loss.

  • Thank you for sharing a piece of your heart. That is beautiful. I am so sorry for your loss.

  • Amystic2 years ago

    I relate to this very much and very beautiful I lost mine in April too and it was on my mom's bday! losing a dad is not easy.

  • C. H. Richard2 years ago

    Hearted and subsctibed

  • C. H. Richard2 years ago

    Beautiful. I could so relate with the experience for each one of my parents. I'm sorry for your loss, but a lovely tribute to being there for your dad.

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