I sat and held his puffy hand. Just four days earlier I was amid a normal workday on the unit, a student in tow. We took a break, because it’s important to teach student nurses how to take care of themselves. It’s a time when we check our phones to see if we are missing anything “out there”. I had just missed a call from my brother, Jason.
My brother, Jason.
My heart started beating fast. Jason doesn’t call me in the middle of a workday. Something is wrong. The noise in the break room around me faded away and all I could hear was the pounding in my chest.
There’s a voicemail.
I reluctantly listened to the message. I know these moments well. Tragedy has been a pesky neighbor to my family for years. You want to know and then you really don’t. But time and circumstance wait for no one. You can never be ready for it.
Dad’s at the ER and the doctor needs to speak with me immediately.
Jason’s voice sounds worried. It sounds bad. Thoughts raced through my head. I need to leave. The doctor called? Why do they need to speak with me immediately? It’s dad’s heart. But if he were dead, Jason would have said so. I can’t think. I have to tell someone. I need to get out of here. I need to go.
I’m suffocating. It’s too soon. I’m not done with him yet. God. Damnit.
Four days later, I am still at the ICU. Those initial hours played over and over in my head as I sat holding Dad’s hand. I was alone. The initial visitors holding vigil needed to get back to their lives and families. I had promised to keep them updated. It was just a waiting game at this point. Waiting for a miracle.
Waiting for a choice.
I silently spoke to him. Not with words, but with thoughts. I felt he could hear me. I knew he could.
I know Mom is waiting for you. It’s okay for you to go to her. I don’t want you to. But I would understand if you did.
I could feel the pull from her on the other side. I didn’t pull back. But I wasn’t going to give up and let go. I wanted him to know that I was still here. I wanted him to know that it was his choice to stay or go. I knew he was at a crossroads. I could see it. I could feel it.
I needed him to know I was there. His eyes were closed so he couldn’t see me. I wasn’t sure he could feel me holding his hand.
I know you can hear me. I need you to know that I am here waiting for you too.
I sang to him. I sang into his good ear, competing with the sigh of the ventilator and dinging respiratory alarms. I sang the silly frog song that he’d heard only an hour or so before he collapsed.
I know you can hear me.
A tear rolled out of his eye and down his cheek. I wasn’t hallucinating. It was the answer I needed. He could hear me. I knew that it didn’t mean he’d chosen to stay. I could still feel him at the crossroads. But I knew he could hear me.
I love you, Dad. I haven’t been able to be there for you as much as I’d liked, but I love you. It’s okay. We will be okay no matter what you choose to do.
The following week, he was awake and singing. His voice was trashed from intubation. But he mouthed the words as I played his Jim Reeves Radio on my Pandora.
He’s intact. He can remember the words.
He doesn’t remember any of this now. But I will never forget. The connections we have with other humans is strong, beyond this consciousness. It is why death does not scare me. I do not want it. But I know it is not the end.
Dad came back from the dead. It was his choice. He had every reason and circumstance to go and to stay. My brother says he’s stubborn and that’s why he’s still alive.
I think Mom told him to get his ass back here.