I went to see my dad today. Re-read yesterday's post first, since it somewhat constitutes the "before" in this "before/after" scenario.
Ok, done? One of the nursing home ladies showed me to his room, which consists mainly of a hospital curtain, a knee-high bed, and a mat on the floor next to it (presumably to roll him out of bed). I walked around the curtain and looked at him. If I'd not known that this was in fact my father of the last 29 years, I'd have thought it was a leftover prop from a John Carpenter movie. My sister had been telling me for a while now that he'd been "declining," but that's a serious understatement. It's like saying Hiroshima was a little smoke and a couple of fires.
I hadn't seen him in person since Thanksgiving, and in the last 8 months, to see him now, you'd think 20 years have passed. Walking into the room and looking at him hit me like a truck. It was chilling to see him in his present condition....he doesn't talk, can't move, has lost a lot of weight, and his jaw has drooped down on his face to the point that it just hangs open. His eyes were sort of open but completely vacant while I was there, and he was completely unresponsive the whole time. His eyes moved a couple of times, but it seemed more random than focused. I'm not even sure he had any idea I was standing there.
It's a sight I may never forget. I wouldn't wish his current condition on anyone. Just laying there, immobile, unable to even speak, only vaguely aware that he's alive. I wasn't sure what that would feel like, how I would react. I went in there to see the man who annoyed and frustrated me to no end for years, and in the blink of an eye, seeing this gaunt ghost of what's barely a human being anymore, all of that resentment vanished. I couldn't be angry or upset at this person anymore. He's a mind trapped inside a body that's lost the will to live. I can't imagine anything worse than that.
So I knelt down beside him, took his stiff, unresponsive hand in mine, looked into those vacant eyes and said, "I wish things could have been better between us, but I know you did the best you could."
I said I was going to go for a while, but that I'd be back later. It was all I could do to get outside the building before that choking feeling grabbed me like a vice and the tears started coming. It's almost 7 hours later and they haven't fully stopped yet.