Goodbye

Last Friday we watched your birds. We sat in the shaded part of the cement patio, both remarking on the delightful warmth of the day. The three-tiered stone fountain bubbled and splashed a lulling rhythm. Playful sparrows hopped along the edges, dipped beaks in for a quick drink, coming up with feathers askew in a mohawk shape that made you laugh. Cardinals swooped in with a flash of scarlet. A rambunctious squirrel darted among the doves for discarded seeds, grasping his cache between grateful paws. There were an unusual amount of birds accompanying us on the patio. They were not deterred by our presence. We were amused by theirs.

We had many afternoons similar to this. Once I discovered your fondness for the outdoors, it became a welcome part of both of our days. We’d pause during our sessions to just observe the world around us. Not knowing the names of the different trees, you’d point out your favorite ones by the shape of the leaves. I’d notice the pattern of the bark. One day, we watched a mom and son cart a wagon load up that steep hill, and we took bets on whether they would make it. Guessing at their load, we wondered why they took the wagon instead of the truck sitting in the drive. You told me stories about this neighborhood from when you were a kid, and you came to this very building to visit the residents with your grandfather. As I carefully navigated the wheels of your chair back to the building, I imagined you skipping up the sidewalk as a young girl.

Monday afternoon I am called to your room. You cannot speak. You try, but we cannot understand. Your eyes have a faraway look in them, which I mistake for fatigue. Illness. As I smooth back soft strands of wispy white hair from your forehead, I call your name. Do you see me? I wipe away beads of sweat with a cool washcloth and pat your arm. My mind is searching for a way to comfort you. Does everyone else understand what I do not? Your sister prays aloud as she holds your hand and I am still calling your name over labored breathing, when I am suddenly aware of an audible silence. A final calm falls over your body, and in that moment my composure breaks as hot tears sting my eyes. Quiet whimpers and sniffs fill the room. A small crowd gathers in disbelief. It was so fast. 

—–

You always wondered at the language of the birds. Often you would gently talk to them. It seems fitting that so many came to visit you that Friday afternoon. There are pieces of our conversation that come back to me, but there is one quote that stood out then and even more so today. As you tried to describe your enjoyment of the simple pleasure of delighting in nature, you said, “Being out here like this, it just lights me up inside.”

All week I half expected to see you sitting in the dining room. It feels strange to walk by your room. Your absence is palpable. I know this will fade in time. And I know I already said this while you were with me, but it bears repeating. Thank you. Thank you for all of the peaceful afternoons we spent together. Thank you for sharing your warm memories. Thank you for sharing your light.

 

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