I paced the hardwood floors of the beach house, picking up random things, straightening and “cleaning”. It felt like July Christmas with no carols. I didn’t really know how to feel- other than random moments of sadness and estrangement… but it felt similar to waiting for a baby to be born- anticipation, always checking the back room, there were flowers on every table, quiches, cakes, fruits and dinners filling up the kitchen. Old Charleston lawyers, judges, drinking buddies and friends stopping by every few hours. It was the first time we were all together in years- my husband’s family. That’s what made it feel like a holiday- no one leaving the house but to go for a walk or catch a moment of the ocean’s gaze. Some of us ate food, some of us sat and read books… but we were all doing the same thing- waiting.
Because there’s something so special and unfortunately unusual about family being together in one home- it felt kind of nice. For this moment of time no phone calls mattered. For this moment; jobs, busy-ness, distraction, didn’t hold precedence, and in regret I find it often takes devastation to pay attention to family.
My father-in-law had cancer, that he believed came from Agent Orange from his days serving in Vietnam, at least that's what he told his oldest son. He purchased a mountain home to spend his last days, where he lived for just a month or so.
My husband’s first father was swept up in the ocean tide never to return from a 5AM fishing trip where a storm swallowed the small boat he rowed out trying to be funny – waking up early and catching fish before his friends saw the sunrise on their large boat that missed the storm. My husband was just under two, and his little brother was yet to be born.
My husband’s second father, who was in his life for the past 26 years was laying in the bed in the side room at the beach house where we were all gathered. He was driven down next to the ocean where he was able to say his goodbyes to his friends, and by the ocean where Billy Hollingsworth died, his wife would bravely champion his side and say goodbye to her second husband.
I never really watched the transition between life and death before. A hospice nurse came and explained everything that could happen in this circumstance to all of us “kids”. John, my father-in-law, had a sense of humor, like no one I ever met. Even as he was in his last moments he was reminding his boys to cancel his Netflix account, and telling his friends to order the finest Charleston sandwiches at his funeral party- after all he was paying.
With his Van Dyke facial hair, and Southern good looks, he laid in that bed- leaving out the details of days of agony, pain- and the worst thing I’ve experienced from this position, when it came close to the end all of us huddled in the room listening to him breathe and watching his occasional arms reach out in front of him- in efforts to grasp- the new life he was moving towards. The veil between worlds was so thin I couldn’t help but ponder this for a long time. Whoever he was reaching towards- his Spirit was truly reaching and his earthly body responded between moments of awake and sleep, heaven and earth; he was going home.
It was 4th of July and an unexpected firework show burst outside the window where we all sat. With the fireworks soaring and sounding, I couldn’t help feel like this was a party for John- a send off as his eyes teared and breathing lessened. The crowds outside cheered and we all gathered for one last silent hooray for the military man, father, Charleston lawyer and so much more laying before us. We had been standing by for days, taking turns sitting by his side, we had read the book about the stages of the end, but when that last breath was taken and I knew that’s what we were waiting for… I would have given anything to see him take just one more.
I will miss those double stuffed baked potatoes and Southern meals he would make us, the laughs, the stories, that Mount Pleasant house where my romance with my husband began. I will miss those years of soccer clubs, roaring "bee sounds" filling his TV as all the boys cheered for their favorite players. I will miss the man my daughter calls, "daddy-daddy" ... there is so much to miss.
When the men came in their suits to take the body away, we all stood by as they laid the American flag over him. It was close to 2AM at this point, the moon was high, the ocean was roaring and the air was breezy and humid. I couldn’t help but feel as I looked out from the top deck where we watched him carry away, behind the palm trees, the ocean tide was luring the next voyage.
By the sea has always been the place where I can find God. The deep blue touching the edge of skyline, the mysteries swallowed and dwelling inside the roar of water. The solitude, the peace, with the ominous fear of creatures and treasures unknown, the rush of freedom with each wave crashing… I can only feel God in that crash and thunder. I can hear his whisper with the sound of moving water, and I know that night, somewhere so close and so far he was whispering, "welcome home."