Knowing when it’s time to go home to say goodbye is difficult.
For five days my siblings and I gathered in my dad’s nursing home room, none of us wanting to leave him as his life ended. We laughed and cried as we shared stories of growing up. We sang favorite church songs. We watched TV shows that none of us processed and caught what few hours of sleep we could. We welcomed family and friends as they came to say their goodbyes and were every so grateful for the deliveries of Skyline and Starbucks.
Several times we gathered around his bedside, holding and touching him, holding and touching each other, none of us wanting to miss his last moment. Each time we would count his breaths as they came with less frequency and each time he would rally. His body would warm up, he’d raise his eyebrows, and once again prove to us that he was still there, deciding on when that final moment would be.
Eventually we started “talking” to Mom, wondering why she was taking so long to reach out her hand and pull him over. I wonder which one of us she was waiting for, which one of us she knew wasn’t ready for that final goodbye. At times Dad would get a look of surprise on his face and greet people he had known who had already died, many of them decades earlier. He was delighted they were there and he greeted them by name. He seemed surprised to see them in his room. He asked a few of them what they were doing there.
Months earlier he asked my sister if she saw the writing that was on the wall of his room. For two years, ever since Mom had died, he had often wondered why he was still alive. Why he was still living when he was bedridden and more than ready to go. The answer to that question apparently showed up on his wall one day and it was this….”When I’m ready I will come for you.”
We’ll never know what makes Him ready to come for a person but we also think Dad may have been angling to choose his day and time. He didn’t pass when all of us were there around him, counting those breaths and praying. He went in the deep of night, when his daughters had found beds to lie down in for a few hours and his son had fallen asleep at his bedside holding his hand. He joined Mom privately and, true to his proud Irish heritage, just an hour or two into St. Patrick’s Day.
I like to believe he was hoping St. Patrick would be there to greet him at heaven’s gate on his feast day.
Hours later, after the funeral home attendants had come and gone and we were headed out to breakfast, drained and exhausted, my sister and I got in the car and got our first message from Dad. As I turned the key and started the engine the very first strains of Danny Boy were playing on the radio.
We couldn’t help but smile. We know he was.