For four days I have sat by my father’s side in this hospital room with the bright red stop sign at the door. I am wearing a blue gown over my clothes, and gloves, and coverings over my shoes. He came into the hospital for dehydration and complications following a fall, and picked up one of those awful antibiotic resistant infections. We talk about the weather, and I show him pictures of the family. He is weak, and oh so tired, and talking a lot about being ready to meet his God. We spend a lot of time in silence, and I hold his hand in mine. It is still the large hand of a tall man, but it is almost weightless, like holding a small bird. He apologizes for being so strict when I was a teen, saying he wishes he knew when to “let up.” I apologize for all the years I made him worry. I take on the role of cheerleader. I compliment him on his oxygen levels. “That’s a great sign, you’re getting stronger!” willing us both to believe that it was true. “That applesauce smells great. I bet it is really refreshing.” Slowly feeding him tiny bits of encouragement and confidence and hope with his pureed green beans and chicken.
A CNA comes in to take away his lunch tray, and he reaches for her hand. She is wearing the bright blue gloves that are a reminder that he is contagious and fragile. She is young and stout and smiling broadly at him as she takes his hand in hers. He asks her name and then turns to tell me that she helped give him a bath that morning, along with another aide whose name he struggles to remember. When she tells him the aide’s name is Tony, he says he didn’t care for the way that Tony spoke to her. She mumbles something about him being ok, and she doesn’t take it personally, and Dad interrupts her to tell her that she deserves just as much respect as any man. He tells her that she does a wonderful job and that he believes that women should be treated with as much respect as men. He is holding onto her tightly, looking seriously into her wide open face as she holds his hand in both of hers. He tells this beautiful strong woman with the kind eyes, with all the sincerity in his soul, that her work is important, and in his eyes, she is right up there with Jesus.
I don’t know if she feels the sincerity in his grasp, or hears the gratitude in his voice, or sees the tears in my eyes, but she doesn’t pull away, and she thanks him.
And I am overcome with gratitude, to just be in this moment, and witness this pure connection of humanity and compassion.
In memory of my Dad, Jack Courtney
04/05/1928 – 04/13/2013