I have a friend whose father is dying. As our moms met in lamaze class, she constitutes as my oldest friend. I was always scared of water when I was a child. In my childhood photo album is a photo I have always appreciated. Terrified me with a face scrunched into a single cry am held high in the air above the water by her dad’s strong arms. Arms made strong by exercise and conditioning for his cyclist’s regimen. My little kid arms tenaciously wrap around his neck like piranha swim in the water below, water into which he will not let me sink, broad smile stretching out over his face.
In the past few months since the prognosis came as cancer, when the doctors said inoperable, there have been a lot of lasts. Last family photo while he still looked like himself, so she can show her children what her family looked like. Preparation for a life in which he will not be a part. Tonight, she called, leaving a message that he’s getting worse, that it’s becoming more real. I know all about these small moments of real and then the switch back to unreal. She asks me to pray for him and I pray for these moments that will disappear too quickly. Pray for this long hello and this long goodbye. I wish this could all be revoked. Wish I had superhero power to heal. But who am I? And what is this? I am a candle burning in his honor tonight, man who loves fiercely, complicated father with a lifetime cut into months weeks days. I write this as balm to all who love, to love tenaciously in the time given, to not put off for tomorrow what could be said, could be balm for today.
I write for her spirit to submerge in a peace that sees the moments glimmer in spite of the waning light of day. Prayed that she would mirror back peace to his eyes fearful and not ready to close. Below is a poem I wrote for her several months ago, when time still had yet to unfold.
how to say goodbye
fingers twist, steeple, roof
i don’t know
how to speak
how to make this better
instead i sit waiting for you
to die, candle-less vigil
of two. we watch our bridge
burn, eyes rimmed in red kohl.
we fight the medics, fight
for ten minutes more
as the shadow of death now lingers
smoking in the hallway. today
through each other, our green eyed
mirror, gap surmounting those
spent years, polaroid snapshot of
your chariot burning, my steeple crashing.