He wasn’t dying. That is, he wasn’t dying as quickly as everyone expected. Dying slowly was one thing; dying alone was another. She hated the thought that he had to endure both.
She pulled up a chair next to his hospital bed and reached across the flimsy white sheet for his bony hand. His body twitched. The muscles in his face contorted rhythmically, expressing smiles and pain intermittently. She didn’t know if the morphine was the cause or if he was comforted and tormented by eighty-four years of memories.
She hadn’t been able to ignore him for many of those years. How could she? She could see his house from her bedroom, kitchen and laundry room. His back porch light traveled easily across her one-acre property, especially piercing in the dark of winter leaving an illuminated trail in the snow between the two houses.
He once stood tall and strong among Chicago’s finest as the Cook County Sheriff’s right hand man. He saw it all – all except the stars at night. That’s why, when he retired over two decades ago, he moved a few hours north with his wife. He had grown indifferent to the red and blue lights that once gave him excitement
and tired of the orange glow that polluted his view to the stars. He built his dream house at the end of a cul-de-sac and in the middle of her view.
Then ten years ago, life played an unkind trick on him. Without permission it left the beautiful, green eyes of his beloved of nearly fifty years and made him throw cold dirt on her casket and their dreams. After he left the cemetery that day, he went home and locked the door.
He hated company. That’s what he wanted everyone to believe. He never allowed the neighbors in through his front door. But somehow she was able to sneak through the cracks of his suspiciousness and the peephole of his hope for humanity.
Every Christmas she left him a small bag of cookies and a book about Jesus. He liked the cookies. She found out he had a sweet tooth and didn’t mind a banana bread every so often. When walking became difficult he felt comfortable asking her for rides to the doctor, the grocery store, the bank. Then he fell. Soon he fell more often and eventually grew too weak to get back up on his own.
When his porch light stayed on that winter night and knocked on her kitchen window, she knew he had fallen.
Seconds dripped from the wall clock of the hospital room into her ears and heart. They were slower seconds than the ones at home. There, the hours filled with chores flew by in no time. Here, these seconds seemed limited, finite, drawn out and begging to be filled with one more opportunity for speaking and hearing the things that mattered most. She was thankful for every inconvenient moment in the past. Those moments now fueled these seconds with meaning. Love, not unlike dying, takes time.
She held his hand and prayed out loud,
who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
He was unable to speak but squeezed her hand one last time.
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.”
(Heidi Viars, 2020)