I didn't go back.
It was a short walk from the intensive-care waiting room to where Dad was dying. I had arrived in the early morning, having gotten the call at 6:00 a.m. that Dad wasn't expected to live through the day.
He made it until after midnight.
That was 40+ years ago. We sat---Mom, me, and my sister---waiting for him to die. Silly aunts and his work colleagues came and went, often having just dropped by the hospital, unaware that this day was the fulcrum of my life.
And we waited.
Mom didn't go back. She didn't want to see Dad hooked up to machines, dying. The doctor said Dad was unconscious.
I like to think I didn't go back because Mom didn't. And I was the good kid.
But my sister went back. Always the rebel, the black sheep, whom Dad loved dearly. He was tormented by her rebellion against Mom.
I could hear him grinding his teeth in his sleep during one of her failed marriages.
But she went back.
She said goodbye to him.
But now I wonder, was he waiting to say goodbye?
What are the dying aware of?
Note: My sister died alone unexpectedly in August, 2020. For much of her life, she was a force of nature. But that spring and summer, she had been isolating due to Covid, leaving her groceries on the front porch for three days after they were delivered, doing anything anyone suggested to try to keep herself safe. Our dad had had a heart attack at 42. He was put on a strict diet that Mom enforced, and when he died of leukemia, his heart was strong. My sister died of a heart attack.