I’m not the first to make a long drive
up a familiar four-lane,
to shake hands with an earnest doctor
who bears more bad news than any one person should bear.
I’m not the first to swallow vomit
and grab the glass door of an ICU room
as my own breath is ripped away
by the ragged breathing of one I love.
I’m not the first to trace the paths
of tangled plastic vines on metal trees
where thorns prick already-purple skin
in a sterile forest of sickness.
I’m not the first to hug people I don’t even know
and walk away with someone else’s perfume on my skin,
to feel jealous of those who pretend to have known him longer
I’m not the first to exchange memories
of strong arms and pipe tobacco
for hollow cheeks and antiseptic,
then fight to replace those new images with the old ones.
I’m not the first to huddle in the hall with family
to make tough decisions–
when I understand so little of medicine and even less of God’s will.
I’m not the first to reverse roles
and care for one who cared for me,
to comfort and reassure, on the verge of lies
because I don’t know what’s actually true.
“It’ll be okay.” No, actually, it won’t.
I’m not the first to wet my steering wheel with salty tears
in a hospital parking lot,
to wonder how many before me have cried
in this same rectangle of space.
I’m not the first to grip a hand that doesn’t grip back,
to rub too-cool skin and stare into blank eyes
and force my wobbly voice to whisper things
staked down in my heart by memory and gratitude.
I’m not the first to nod to a nurse,
to step out of the room while they unplug and unhook,
to take another deep breath and force my eyes open
by gritting my teeth on the return.
I’m not the first to want it to be over,
to hope this shallow breath is the last,
to strain for the flat-line sound
so I can breathe solely for myself again.
I’m not the first to marvel at how joy and sadness
can occupy the same moment with such strength,
at how God breaks my heart with his own hand
then uses my thin threads of praise to bind it back together.
I’m not the first to feel relief when the nurse shakes his head
because the stethoscope is silent
then find myself unable to release the swollen hand
that held mine when his was big and mine was small.
I’m not the first to close my eyes
and see his open eyes,
to wonder if it’s okay to laugh yet,
to quash my own grief so I can comfort others.
I’m not the first to cry over a coffee mug
and forget the day of the week,
to make normal plans for a normal next week
then wonder how long ‘normal’ will be gone.
I’m not the first to say good-bye.
The hard part is over.
Now we celebrate!
My Father was a Christ-follower with a knack for quiet generosity and well-timed stories. His home-going this week was among the hardest things I’ve ever experienced. Yet the actual passing was beautiful. As I’ve been telling everyone, the hard part is over; now we celebrate!