My father had a fondness for Wilson. Not the volleyball variety of the movie "Castaway" with Tom Hanks, but the plain gray sweatshirt and t-shirt shorts variety.
In the two May/June weeks before he died, Dad lived with my brother, Ernie, and his wife, Sarah. Each morning, Dad would come sit at the kitchen island dressed in a pair of gray t-shirt shorts, brown leather slippers, and his winter coat. His long and spindly chicken legs extended from his 6'4" frame like an ostrich's support. He'd lean in, feet resting on the stool's crossbar with crossed arms leaning on the counter preparing to give what Sarah came to lovingly entitle "The Morning Report". The Morning Report was a clear indication of just how cooperative his bowels were proving to be that morning. Often, they were not. Sarah would just chuckle and ask unneccessarily for an update that was sure to come anyway.
I thought about the Morning Report tonight. I'm sitting at my own kitchen island as the spaghetti sauce simmers on the stove. It's a slightly chilly, early May evening in Indiana, so I don something warm to take the edge off the cool breeze coming in from the open patio door. I toss on my father's old Wilson sweatshirt and am reminded of all these things. As I type, I realize that it was this week five years ago, that I spent my last few days with Dad. I'd decided last minute that I needed to take a leave from work and spend two weeks in Maine with my father. My intention had been that I would come back from the trip to Germany sans Dad and spend that summer in 2008 with him, documenting and videotaping his stories. Thank God I decided to go sooner, as the summer would be too late and the stories would have gone undocumented. I choke with tears at the memory. God is good.
In late June 2008 when the family all gathered to bid final farewell to a truly great man, we would sit together and reminisce. It was then that I learned about the Morning Report and Dad's final days and his final moments. Sarah recounted her treasured time with Dad at the kitchen island. My father died on June 9th. His goal had been to make it until June 7th, the date that would have marked my parents 65th wedding anniversary. He'd not had much appetite in the days leading up to that special day, but on the morning of the 7th, Sarah cooked him a full breakfast. He ate a good lunch and even managed to eat a decent meal at supper time. He headed to the bedroom for a good night's sleep. The morning of the 8th brought a different story. Dad was not himself. Exhaustion permeated his every breath. Ernie and Sarah and their grown daughter, Amy, spent that Sunday afternoon with him, what came to be the last moments he was awake and aware.
Have you ever wondered what your final words will be? We laugh at Dad's; he would have chuckled, as well, at the mixed message, had he the opportunity. He loved a good laugh. As he laid in bed, his breath labored and his words betraying his exhaustion, he looked at those gathered around and, with a final burst of strength, he said, "I've got to go". There was a slight pause of uncertainty before Amy leaned in and asked, "Pepere, do you mean you have to go be with Memere, or do you have to go to the bathroom?" She never got her answer. Dad closed his eyes and rested. Twenty-four hours later, he was gone.
So, I sit here tonight, leaning against the counter of the kitchen island, sipping a glass of Malbec and slurping spaghetti, wrapped in the warm embrace of a worn, gray Wilson sweatshirt, thinking of Dad and all that was and all that is. And it is good.
Love you, Dad.