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    The Last Time I Saw Him

           The last time I saw him, I squeezed his hand. He squeezed back. He. Squeezed. Back. He wasn’t supposed to be able to do that. He’s not supposed to be able to hear me.
           It was just me and my sister Cheryl by then. Everyone else had gone back to our sister Pam’s house to sleep. But Cheryl and I couldn't fathom not sleeping at the hospital, next to him, in his room. A room full of more pain and sorrow and heartache than I knew was possible.
           After doing my best to fall asleep in a chair, I went to the small chapel down the hall. There was a bench in there I could stretch out on. And it was a good place to pray.
           A few days before, from his hospital bed, he had been asking where I was. Although I wasn’t there to hear him say “Where’s John”, I can hear those words echoing in me so loud and dissonant that they strike my heart, plucking it like a string. And then everything I am inside vibrates the most haunting of tones.   
           I should have been there for him more. I should have lived at the hospital. But I didn't get how bad it was. None of us did. And I took some comfort knowing that the worst two nights he had, I was there with him, in the ICU, lying next to him in a cot rolled in by the nurses. If he could have stepped out of his delirium long enough to realize what was happening, it would have made him happy to know that it was me spending the night. I know he would have wanted it to be me in there with him.  
           What I didn’t know was how to handle his sickness. So I made myself sick by self medicating. It took my pain away for a while. It was the only thing that did. So I kept doing it.   
           The heaviness I sometimes get when I think about those last few weeks of October still makes my head tilt a little forward; still makes breathing a little harder; still weighs my heart like an anchor; still puts something in my throat that has no substance but chokes me nonetheless; still either causes a numbness or a welling up behind my eyes. Even now. Eight years later.
           In the chapel down the hall, I actually dozed off for a few minutes on the couch when Cheryl came in and said “John, he’s doing real bad”. His heart had gone into arrhythmia. So now on top of the tubes up his nose and down his throat, he had pads on his chest shooting electricity through him. His body spasmed in a most horrific, unnatural way after the nurse repeatedly cried “Clear!”. I held Cheryl’s hand. And we held his hands. And we didn’t let go.  
           This was it. There would be no miracle. There would be no more baseball games. No more long, philosophical discussions. No more watching World War Two documentaries together and discussing the impact of that war on the history of humankind. No more corny jokes I had heard a thousand times before but still laughed at. No more watching him lean back in his chair, stare off towards a distant target, and pick his lip when I posed an inquiry that he had to think deeply about. No more dropping by his office just to say hi. No more of him coming up to me, spontaneously hugging me, and asking me.....“Who loves ya, John?”………and me replying…….“You do, Dad. You do.”

    ©2104 John Piatelli, MuscleHeart LLC, and Red F Publishing. All rights reserved

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