In the course of time, inside us as well as outside us, certain pauses take place.
We hear this stop and come to a standstill, without being aware of it.
We’ve actually forgotten.
Our gaze stands still above our own unknown, trying to smile.
Pauses from one thought to the next, from one word to the next, from dream to fact, from recollection to now. A question hovers suspended from lips, which doesn’t want to be asked, so that no one hears it. And yet, this unspoken “why” can be heard inside this pause – an odd coupling of childlike sweetness and senile bitterness.
Maybe that’s why my father became more handsome in the course of his last months?
His entire face had become a smile – a distant smile, not towards anybody and not toward himself. A glowing smile, free of any purpose.
This was not always so.
When we met with the palliative care team for the first time in August, my father was animated and talkative. The list of medications and doses, daunting. Judy, who was to become his private nurse, gave us a large clear blue plastic bill box, divided into seven sections, one for each day of the week. Together we made a list of my father’s medications and dosages. And my father was given the task of organizing his pills.
I notice that my father’s smile changed soon after our fateful meeting at the Cancer Clinic. This new smile had a purpose: to bridge or conceal his pauses, to keep me from recognizing that our previous life, our previous interactions before his diagnosis, had been forever interrupted.
With each of Judy’s visits, my father’s smile became larger while his vocabulary became smaller.
“Hello Nick. Can I see your medications? Have you had a bowel movement today or would you like an enema?”
“I wanted to go to the bathroom, but instead of going to the bathroom, I went to the kitchen. Have you seen my garden? The fig trees are ripe with fruit. Ever made fig jam?” He burst out laughing. And we laughed too. “My goodness, how absent-minded. I’ve become.”
But now when I recall his laugh, I see it wasn’t like his smile those last few days: diffused, vague, holy. In August, it was a mask – trying to hide something.
Even his admission was misleading – in order to deflect us – to prove that he was the first to recognize his own absent-mindedness.
For the first few weeks, Judy left each visit with a bag or two of figs and other fruits that my father harvested from his back yard.
And I memorized his prescriptions, his dosages. I organized drawers full of tablets and capsules: Cemetidine, Ativan, Cytotec, Naproxen, Hydrochlorothiazene, Hytrin, Altace, Mesolon, Ms Contin, Haldol, Gravol, and MOS.
Gradually, my father stopped talking. For hours, he remained silent. Staring at nothing. He would open a book without reading and then close it, with one of his fingers still between the pages.
The book must have felt terribly mournful, forgotten like this on his lap.
Often he asked the same question three times, five times, ten times, “Where were you yesterday, Christina?” “Edo emouna, Baba, mazi sou” Two minutes later, the very same question: “Where were you yesterday?” “Right here, beside you daddy, where else would I be?”
Even if he asked the same question a thousand times, the nurses, my mother and I would answer him as if it were the first.
And at once, darkness fell. On morphine for most of his waking hours, my father’s eyes became empty and white.
I noticed the wildflowers in his garden were sad stars, which had fallen from the sky, sad for my father, and I felt sad too.
Three days before his death and on my birthday, my father gave me his final gift.
“Christina,” my father called to me, “a newborn comes into this world with his fists closed as he has the desire to grab everything he sees before him. When an old man dies, he dies with his hands open because he has realized that there is nothing he can take with him, only those intangibles imprinted on his heart.”
His eyes became white again, completely empty. He could see without looking. Perhaps now, he could see the invisible in its entirety, the empty, the absolutely white.
It seems that the pauses inside him had become wider, until they fused and all of them became a single pause, an infinite, absolutely white serene pause. His face became more sweet, more distant, like some disembodied saint.
And in this absence of colour, I reached for my father’s hand.