A couple years before my dad died, he gave me a gift. He told me he had a story idea about an old man’s date with destiny. He described the scenario vividly and I could picture every moment of this man’s journey as my father transferred the story from his mind directly into my brain. When Dad died, I searched his computer, wondering if he had written this wonderful story. I wanted so badly to find his words so I could print them out and share them with the world. But, the words were not there.
So, it was my turn to give him a gift. I took the words he etched on my brain and wrote his story honoring almost every detail. I say almost because I did make one change and I think he knows why.
Here’s to you, Dad!
Bernie opened his eyes as he did every morning sharply at 8:00 am. He was alive for one more day, and the butterflies in his belly sent a message to his brain that something good was on the horizon – perhaps the sun. After an extended absence, the sun had indeed emerged from behind the clouds and found an opening in the drapes, targeting Bernie right between his watery brown eyes. The hot ray of sunshine on his face demanded his attention as it warmed his chilled body from the top of his hair-challenged head to the tip of his arthritic toes and as it sent its heat through his body, it seemed to illuminate each object in the room with an ethereal glow. The floral print on the curtains went from dingy pale pink and yellow to a deep fuchsia and saffron with leaves and stems as green as the grass of St. Andrews. And the petals of each flower might have been moving; he wasn’t sure. Were his old tired eyes playing tricks on him? And, why did his body respond so profoundly to a silly ray of sunshine? Of course, he did live in Seattle where a sun sighting was rare, but still, this reaction was over the top for that one sunny day in December.
Bernie had been feeling crappy for weeks – forty-seven weeks to be exact – and if that warm beam of light could to bring him out of his funk, he would embrace it. He sat up slowly, preparing himself for his morning trip to the bathroom. It had become a struggle to move his heavy, aching legs into the waiting slippers and shuffle to the room he knew so well; the room in which he struggled to relieve his swollen prostate; the room that held the putrid remains of each small meal his body refused to digest after chemo; the room he had come to hate. God knows why I’m optimistic, Bernie thought. The prognosis was not promising, but Bernie always looked for the good and still found humor and joy in his life in spite of his circumstances. He wasn’t supposed to survive this cancer, but he knew if anyone could beat the odds, he would be the one. And, when he got that final miracle declaring him cancer free, he would buy himself a Mustang convertible. It would be red to match his favorite golf sweater and cuffley cap. That was Bernie – always hopeful, always dapper and always full of life. He was not going to give up!
On this exceptionally bright winter morning, he felt more hope than ever. He reached for his pain pills then suddenly realized he felt no pain, in fact, he felt better than he’d felt in fifty years. Crazy what a little sunshine/vitamin D can do for an old body, he thought. He had barely left his bedroom in the last month and now he was ready to go to the dealership and buy that Mustang. Had he turned the corner? Was the chemo finally working? He felt like dancing! How could this be? From handfuls of oxycontin to feeling like a young man again, it didn’t make sense.
Oh, God, it really didn’t make sense! Something was wrong – very wrong. Oh, God, NO! This couldn’t be happening to him. “Damn it, God, I’m not ready for this!” Bernie shouted. He ran to the window. It was not sunny outside. It was dark as hell. But, inside his room that bright light glowed like a lighthouse beacon. There was no ray of sunshine, no ray of hope. It was the end. He was heading into the proverbial light everyone told him he would see when he died. He didn’t even believe in that crap and now he was living it – or more accurately dying it. God Damn it! There was so much he had missed in life and now it was over.
“God doesn’t appreciate you using his name in vain, Bernie. ‘Damn it’ is not God’s last name.”
“Who said that? Saint Peter? Am I at the Pearly Gates?” Bernie blinked and his room was no longer visible. He was floating on a cloud, talking to God’s right hand man. “Sorry about the ‘Damn it, St. Peter.” Continue reading