April 11, 1987
Pulley Nursing Home
My Father’s Eyes
“ It won’t be long now. I’m sorry son.”
I sat at the edge of my Father’s bed, head down, eyes watering.
The Doctor left the room, quietly closing the door behind him, leaving me to the loneliness of my dying Father’s
As I looked into his face, that wrinkled brow, the silver stubs of hair on his chin, I thought back to happier times. Times
when he lifted me over his head and sat me on his shoulders so that I felt like a giant, watching his feet traverse the pavement
with huge, sure strides, the jolt of each step assuring me that I was safe from the dogs that barked from behind the fences,
the cars that zoomed past on the street and the others we met along the way who had to look up at me to say hello. I thought
of the days in the country, eating a picnic lunch of warm ham and yellow potato salad as he shooed the flies and the bees
away. Sitting on a hillside until the day grew dim and eyes drooped with sleep. I remembered those hard times when he struggled
to keep his family fed, when he cried himself to sleep some nights. I remembered the lessons he taught me from his understanding
of life, how God was the most important part of life while alive and the most comforting in death. I let my thoughts wander
back to those days of wonderful adventures traveling in the mountains of West Virginia. I recalled the smile on Odie’s
face, so pleased with his first set of false teeth, I thought of Rebecca, where she may be today, if she ever left the mountains.
She would have loved to be here at this moment I was sure, to write her name on a get well card.
Now I sat alone, another of life’s chapters nearly written, another ending unresolved. Another tear to cry.
My Father was dying and I was helpless to save him. He didn’t even know I was in the room.. he didn’t know
that I was crying because of the pain I had caused him. Pain that I could not even ask forgiveness for, heartache that would
last until his final breath and beyond.
In my foolishness I had strayed from him, believing that I would find happiness with rascals, unbelievers. I lost sight
of his teachings, of his truths. I traveled with unsavory ones, liars and thieves. Like a nomad, constantly looking for that
which had been right here all along.
His eyes curiously avoided mine, even as they would open now and again.
He laid unmoving, unrecognizing. My heart pounded inside my chest like a drum, breath shortened, lips quivering. I was
not ready for this. Where the hell was everyone? Didn’t they understand what was happening here? He could die at any
moment, alone except for my wretched soul weeping beside him.
Suddenly a bell rang in the hallway and I heard Doctors being called by name, to respond Stat. I opened the door slightly
and peered into the hallway as white coats with frantic faces flew by. Opening the door further to look down the long sterile
corridor I saw them rush into a room several doors down from my Fathers. I wished they were coming here, I remember thinking.
Perhaps that would have given me new hope. Sadly no one came rushing into the room, not a single white coat. I guess they
knew what I didn’t want to accept as truth... that Father would soon be gone. I slowly shut the door and looked at him
once more, quiet in his repose, an image of peace, resolved in his faith and biding his last moments in dreams.
I kneeled beside him as a child saying his nightly prayers. I held his lifeless hand as he stumbled in and out of slumber.
Soon I began to hear the lonely sounds of death emanating from his short breaths.
Finally, one last sigh, a faint gasp and he was gone.
Nearly twenty years have passed since then. Time enough for healing, for forgetting.
Still, there is that image preserved forever in my mind of my Father lying on that hospital bed waiting patiently for death
while I aguishly hoped that he would open his eyes again, just once, so that I could say “ I’m sorry!” I
repeated it over and over as I kneeled beside him those twenty years ago, but I don’t know if he ever heard me.
If only he would have looked into my eyes. His eyes would have spoken to me. They could have told me that he understood,
that he forgave me. That through all the suffering I caused, he still loved me.
Alas, after these long years, I have come to realize that Father chose not to look into my eyes that day, that memories,
perhaps, were better left to the heart!