About a month and a half before he died, I had a conversation with my dad about death. I didn't know if it was right or fair, given his incredibly frail health, but I desperately needed to talk to him. I wanted to tell him about the vision I had of Thomas pushing through crowds of family and friends to be the first to greet whichever one of us was to arrive next.
I said "whichever one of us". I knew it would be Dad.
He smiled. And got quiet.
To fill the silence I blathered on, making a vague reference to some pretty severe doubts that had been plaguing me since he'd gotten so sick, about whether or not there even was a heaven.
In hindsight this all seems so cruel - to try to seek spiritual solace from someone staring death in the face, someone getting weaker every day and fighting so hard to live. But I couldn't help myself. I knew I was losing him. I was watching him slip away right before my eyes. The enormity of that impending loss made me realize exactly how desperately I needed to know that this is not all there is. That I would see him again, even if he had to leave me for a while now.
It was easy when he was younger and healthier. It was theoretical, the separation.
But when you look at someone and see death staring back at you, sometimes you say things you might otherwise not. And I hope he has long forgiven me for forcing him to talk about dying in the dialysis waiting room that day.
He told me he wasn't afraid of death. He was a man of immense, unwavering faith. He said if he happened to be wrong, which I know he didn't think he was, he'd never know the difference so it didn't concern him.
He said the only thing he was afraid of was the moment of death.
And I didn't know what to say, except to agree. And to feel sick for making him reach in and poke at that one little weak chink in his armor.
And then he was gone.
He would have loved to tell me about the moment of death, once he finally experienced it. As weird as that sounds, I know he would have. He loved to tell stories, especially if they were funny, but also if he knew someone was really, really interested in what he had to say. And I am. Oh, I am.
He would lean forward in his chair and said, "Say, do you remember that day in the waiting room when we were talking about dying? WELL..." then he'd pause for emphasis, lean back, and proceed to tell me that it wasn't as bad as he'd feared. Or that it was worse. Or quick. Or agonizingly slow. Most likely he'd say it's not worth worrying about while you're still alive because there's all sorts of important living to do then. And if that was his message, he'd probably wag his finger at me with his head tilted and his stern face on while he was delivering it.
And I would listen to the sound of that lovely voice, taking in all the details, nodding and commenting and laughing at the funny bits I'm sure he'd have managed to find in it all. Just like always.
It's been so long.