I recently spent time with my father while his wife had surgery. I took him to visit her at the hospital each day, and when we got home I stopped him from calling her every five minutes. I gave him dinner and pills at the appointed hours. I cleaned up his "accidents."
While he watched a televised baseball game one afternoon, I walked into his den and eyed the wall of supplements he used to take — bookcase after bookcase of pills with names like Memoral and Sharp Mind. Won't be needing them anymore.
I rested my hand on his gun cabinet. Won't need you, either.
My father walked to the coffee shop with me every morning. The only thing he'd say on these walks was, "The hibisci are in full bloom." Every time he said it — which was dozens — I wondered whether the plural of hibiscus is, in fact, hibisci.
On the final morning of my visit, he didn't mention the blooms. But when we passed a particularly flourishing tree, he stopped to look at me.
"Gal," he said, then paused to find the words.
His voice quivered. "I sure appreciate you coming down to take care of me."
I composed myself long enough to say: "It was a pleasure, especially after all you have done for me. Besides, you don't need so much taking care of."
As we walked on, my father would repeat this latest sentence every few minutes — the same quiver in his voice at the exact same place.
Each time, my response got shorter and shorter, until I was the one who had nothing left to say.
Nancy Stearns Bercaw is a writer in Vermont.
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