The large windows faced west, apparently. I have no idea of such things, but that’s where the sun went down moments after my father died, staining the sky that beautiful blue orange gradient, the silhouettes of the palm trees turning black against the glowing sky. If you want to believe in a merciful God, there’s your picture.
My father had no sense of direction, did not know the names of trees, or birds. He had no mechanical aptitude. His one project, the towel rack he built in the basement bathroom out of one by fours and a couple of wooden rods, was serviceable, if warped. He was unable to impart these practical things to me, he did not know them himself. I understand this now and don’t hold it against him.
That simple understanding took many years. There was a war going on around us, we were in the middle of it. With the constant gun fire, explosions, clouds of rolling poison gas, the trenches, the cries of dying horses, it was hard to focus on simple understandings.
The windows of his hospital room on State Road 7 in Florida faced west. I know that now because I have heard the sun sets in the west. After he died, the nurse quietly came into the room. I gave her his oxygen line, after closing my dead father’s eyes. I said “he won’t be needing this,” like a hardboiled character in a cheap noir novel. Nobody knows how to act around death. My father’s death was no surprise, although the suddenness of his last moments was striking.
“Why don’t you all go down and have some dinner? Take a little break, you’ve been here all day. Elie will sit with me, it’s OK,” my father told my mother, my sister, my uncle, my brother-in-law. They’d been sitting with him most of the day. I’d been the last to arrive, after being up with him until four or so the night before. It seemed natural enough at the time. None of us suspected that within twenty-five minutes he’d be dead.
An hour or so earlier he’d suddenly become agitated, grabbed my sister and me by the hands, held us tightly. This action, so uncharacteristic of him, was like an alarm. It was electrifying. I asked the nurse if there was Atavan in his chart. I knew about Atavan because my mentally ill friend loved it. He and his despicable wife fought over the bottle of Atavan, hiding it from each other, hoarding the pills.
“I don’t want to take anything,” said my father, dropping our hands but still clearly terrified. I knew what he was concerned about.
“Don’t worry, dad, it will leave your mind clear. Andy takes it, I know all about this drug. It will just take the edge off, relax you a little.”
The nurse brought him the pill and he took it. Within a few minutes he was calm. The concerned faces of his wife, brother, children began to relax a little bit. Then he told everyone to go take a break, go down to the cafeteria for a while. He reassured them that I would sit with him, there was nothing to worry about. He was fine.
They got up and left. Two nurses came into the room. One pointed to my father’s fingernails, which were turning bluish. She said this was a sign that oxygen was no longer getting to his extremities, one of the final signs. The other nurse, a good looking Jamaican woman, said that if you pray, this is the time to say your prayers. I told her we were not particularly religious. She took it on herself to hedge our bets, sang “Dayenu”, a Passover song of thanks to God, in a beautiful voice. The two nurses helped me lower the barrier on the side of my father’s deathbed so I could sit closer to him, then silently left.
A couple of minutes later my father said “I don’t know how to do this.” Then he did. Then the sun set and it was Shabbat, the day of rest.