The sun trickles into the room from behind closed blinds, hinting at the gorgeous fall day outside. Inside, he lies looking vacantly into space, rosary beads clasped firmly in his hand. Approaching, I greet him with a tender hello and am uncertain if my presence really registers. I look into the face that is so very familiar, so many features so engraved on my heart from a lifetime of seeing them in so many nuances.
I offer him water, which he accepts with welcome and this small action of offering it hurtles me back to other bedsides where the same dance has played out. Tears threaten but it is not time for that. I offer to say the beads and he lifts his hand to drop them in my palm. As I recite the familiar prayers I make my voice a soothing rhythm, a gentle cadence, hoping that somehow this provides company and comfort. His face relaxes and his eyes close, letting me study his profile and hold it all close to me – he who is the youngest one.
I watch his hand, now relaxed on the bedcover, the long and slender fingers, small for a man really. These hands that have held mine for a moment here and there throughout my lifetime, a small squeeze saying what his words could not. He was not the talkative one. But his hands could be the same ones that I saw in so many gestures over time.
He is annoyed, a bit agitated. The brief look of irritation that crosses his face and settles in his eyes is familiar. Patience and flexibility weren’t really the most likely description of this bunch. He wants the water jug on that table. Over there. I indulge. His furrowed brow smooths.
He is clean-shaven – a notable trait in his family. No beards, a few moustaches now and again, but a nice clean shave was part of good grooming and dignified presentation. This freshly smoothed cheek is like so many others I have kissed in greeting and good-bye over the years.
“Will you walk me?” he asks, and the years that have run between us seem to have reversed rhythm. It was he who walked me. He the youngest of his clan, me the youngest of the next generation of that same big tree. I don’t think he can walk now but I call the nurse who comes and, with kindness, settles him in his chair. As she works she talks away and notes that he likes the weather channel. I nod and look to him, “because you’re a good old farm boy, right?” She didn’t know that about him. He was. He was raised on a dairy farm.
I make some mention of his brothers and she asks, “Oh, you had lots of brothers?” and he glances at me. Oh, yes. He had lots of brothers. Five of them in fact. I loved them all. The oldest, and the youngest, and all the ones in between. Especially the in between one that was my father.
Six boys who became men with so many physical similarities it never ceased to cause me wonder. If they were in a room together it would have been hard to miss that they were brothers. Since my father died over eleven years ago, his brothers have kept bits of him alive for me when I look in their eyes, see their strong features, kiss their smooth cheeks, touch their very familiar hands. But they are leaving to join him one by one, and each time they do, it’s like losing a little of him all over again.
But I bet they are having one heck of a party. They’re Irish you know.