By Barry Herzog
Watch the VidLit: Eulogy
I am in the room where my father died.
The room is in the basement of a hospital. It could be the boiler room of an ocean liner. Naked water pipes swirl across walls of unadorned gray concrete. Fluorescent lights glare down from the ceiling. The door is thick, brown, and clicks shut when it closes.
My father lies face up in bed. He sports a mustache. The bed has rails but they are down. He grimaces and sighs. His eyelids flutter. He mumbles nonsense, frowns and smiles. He wears blue pajamas my mother brought from home when it became clear that he would not wake up and deserved to wear pajamas consistent with mortality.
My mother keeps his glasses in her purse. She has his wedding band in there, his watch, his college graduation ring, and a partial bridge taken out before the surgery.
I sit on a metal chair along a wall. I watch my father’s death from there, see his facial tics, hear his garbled words, his random sentences.
But just this once I imagine I am sitting next to him. Just this once I lean forward, take his hand and feel something other than fear and dread, loathing and respect, estrangement and despair.
His hand is smooth, the fingernails well trimmed. His hand is masculine and guarded even when relaxed, its muscles cabled steel supporting a wind-swept bridge.
I brush my hand across my father’s head. His hair is silken, graying, trimmed short along the sides then swept across the top. He turns his head away as if annoyed with me, then turns it back. His lips move as if he’s lecturing, summing up or delivering instructions that will save his life, perhaps reciting a limerick that he memorized in his sixth grade English class.
I hold his hand and watch him die, see him collapse into himself. His chest expels its air, stops and does not move again or ever. His hand feels warm but that could be my body heat, not his.
Across the room my mother sags into her chair. Her sag is instantaneous to his, and born of loss I do not share. My father dies as we have lived, in silence, strangers divided by a chasm forged of an utter lack of candor, love and comprehension.
Still, I hold his hand.