It's the day before my father will die. He's in a hospital bed in the intensive care unit, hooked up to machines monitoring his vitals, with a light so bright hanging directly over him that I must force myself to think of things other than tunnels and what lies at the end of them.
My mother-in-law is sitting behind me on the bed. She watches with me as my father blinks, opens his eyes, and focuses them above us both. His eyes meet mine and he opens his mouth to speak a single word. But his mouth is dry and he cannot vocalize, leaving me to guess what he is trying to tell me. I offer him water, ask him if he's cold, are the lights too bright? He closes his eyes in frustration and weakly shakes his head no. Then he raises his right arm as high as he can and points to the light above the very bed we will all stand around as a family tomorrow night when he leaves us much sooner than any of us had ever anticipated.
"So the light is too bright, isn't it?" I ask again. He shakes his head no and points again, silently speaking the same word over and over, his mouth forming around the tubes going down his throat. My mother-in-law suggests I ask the night nurse for a pen and a notebook, so I leave and return, pen and paper in hand, only to discover he is too weak to write.
"We should go," says my mother-in-law.
I kiss him. I tell him I love him. I tell him that I will see him tomorrow. I don't realize that he won't know we are there beside him. I don't know that my father is pointing to the spirit of my grandmother floating above him. I don't understand that he is trying to tell me she is waiting for him; that it's time. And I should. He's the only one who believed me when I told him she smiled at me when I kissed her cold cheek that day I thought she was sleeping when I was only six. She watches over us both, he has told me more than once. Her only son and her first grandchild. So many late night conversations about the spirit that bound us together, always grateful that he believed me when I told him she smiled at me that day. And yet, I leave, unaware that I should have stayed with him.
I don't know that my mother-in-law suspected what he was trying to say. Or that she sent me out of the room on purpose. And I don't know that he nodded his head that yes, someone we couldn't see was waiting for him or that this good-bye will be the last.
So we leave. I climb into bed with my six-month-old daughter and my husband. And I sleep a dreamless sleep.
This post was written in response to a writing prompt on Write On Edge. This week, writers were asked to write about their worst memory. Mine is not knowing what tomorrow would bring.