This past weekend I saw my father for the last time. Pancreatic cancer has ravaged his body so fiercely and fast that in the two months since I last saw him, he has become a mere shadow of himself, his body just a vessel for his failing organs and his weakening voice.
I saw my father reclining for the last time on a chaise in his glorious backyard as he listened to the birds and watched the sun go down. I saw him sitting upright in his spot on the couch in the downstairs of his house, for the last time. Noone had any clue that when he shuffled up the carpeted stairs with the help of a walker and a caregiver, that unless someone carried him, he would probably never make it back down.
For two days I held my father’s hand, his grip still remarkably strong and watched him go in and out, as he smiled at me every once in a while and went back to sleep. I cheered him on as he struggled to sip orange juice through a bendy straw and dabbed at the places where I carelessly splashed his face in the process.
It was the last time I will be able to fulfill his sudden craving for “three bottles of Dr. Brown’s Cel-ray soda,” a long-time favorite of his from his deli days in New York.
It was the last time I will walk through the wrought iron gate of his Los Angeles home of 30 years and step into his tranquil courtyard with gorgeous statues and water features and have to brace myself for what I would find when I went inside.
It was the last time he will recommend a book to me and ask me to take whatever I wanted from his overflowing shelves. It was the last time he will point weakly at a leather box sitting on his desk and tell me to open it. Inside was every picture of my daughter that I have ever sent him, dates written in his familiar hand, as he has always done with all of his pictures. It was the last time I will gasp and weep openly at something so striking and beautiful.
There will be no more packages of books from Amazon addressed to my daughter, books picked by him from the young adult section of the New York Times Book Review. There will be no more articles cut from newspapers addressed to me on topics that he knows I’d be interested in.
It was the last time I will kiss him on the lips and hug his body, a body once so strong and robust, accompanied by a booming voice, now weakened to a whisper that hurts when he has to use it.
He is hanging on, buoyed by his love of caramel Frappucinos and the fierce love of his wife and family. Soon, there will be a last phone conversation, a last “I love you.”