His last two quarters

An intimate and touching excerpt about adult children making end-of-life decisions just after their father took his final breath. A true story that is both highly personal and widely universal.
……………………………..
“Have you considered what you would like your father to wear to the mortuary?” the hospice social worker, Shawn, asked.

My brother, Nick, and I looked at each other and with that one question, we were struck with the finality of the situation. Our father was going to leave his bedroom, wearing the clothes we selected for him, and we would never see him again. With our father’s body lying on the bed between us, Nick and I held each other’s gaze for a few moments, as we processed Shawn’s question. My father and I had discussed his wish to be cremated, which led to me making arrangements with the same mortuary that had handled his parents’ cremation many years before, but the seemingly insignificant detail of what he would wear to the mortuary had not been discussed. Perhaps that would have been a point of discussion the following day when we were supposed to meet Shawn in the same room, to talk about end-of-life details. We thought we had weeks to prepare, to have last conversations, last laughs, last dinners, but we were not given weeks. My father drew his last breath the day before our scheduled appointment with Shawn.

Shawn stood in the silence as my brother and I looked at each other. A silence that was probably familiar for a social worker, who was not waiting for a response so much as he was giving us the space to comprehend the task ahead: to select a final wardrobe and change our father out of his pajamas and into clothes for his final farewell. Shawn told us to take our time, then he took leave, before closing the door behind him.

My brother stood closest to the closet where my father’s clothes were hanging. My dad’s once full walk-in closet of work clothes had been reduced to a few of his favorite, mostly black, comfortable items. I stood on the other side of the bed next to a chair. The same chair I had spent hours in the day before, talking to and sharing a few laughs with my dad, during what would be our final visit. The same chair that my stepmom excused herself from when she began sobbing, just moments before her husband’s labored breath ceased. My brother began to look through our dad’s limited clothing selection. I found irony in the fact that my brother, a collector and lover of designer clothes and shoes, would be tasked with selecting a final wardrobe for a man who was most comfortable in Wrangler jeans, black t-shirts, and basic black athletic shoes.

“These damn shoes,” Nick said, chuckling, “Dad loved these shoes.”

Wanting the choices to be more, the final selection to be grander, the decisions were made: comfortable jeans, those shoes, and a plain black t-shirt. A simple and yet most difficult decision for me and Nick, because making that simple decision would bring us closer to an inevitable call to the mortuary. I wanted to stretch out the day and delay the arrival of two men rolling a stretcher down the hallway, but death settles into the body quickly and we needed to move forward so that our father could move on.

Before changing our dad into his clothes, my brother suggested doing something that maybe only a man would consider, and one that our dad would have appreciated. He wanted to clean up our dad’s stubbly face with a final shave. I looked for his razor and when finding a never-opened cartridge of razors in his desk drawer I was caught between a laugh and a cry. My father had mastered the art of Prime shopping during his final year of life and as an organized person, even during his battle with Cancer, he was stocked up on most items, and ordering and tracking items probably added purpose to his days afflicted with worry and pain.

What I watched unfold over the next several minutes was both the gentlest scene I have ever witnessed and the saddest. My brother took great care to shave our dad, as best he could, and comb his hair, before dressing him in his final outfit. Wanting to remember every detail and to give my brother this final father-son moment, I stood bedside and quietly watched my brother lovingly and calmly dress our father for his final bon voyage. With our dad dressed and a few tears and laughs exchanged between us, we remembered one final detail. Our dad could not leave the house without two quarters in his pocket. The quarters were not for spending; they were for constant spinning. A lifetime spent twirling quarters with his fingertips to soothe his endless nervous energy. Our father was finally at peace, but he would have chuckled knowing his final departure included a shave from his son and two quarters in his favorite pockets.
……………………………..
Bedside Chair
a poem
tap, tap, tap
fingers on the keys
typing a list of meds
a final request
errors dangerous
type with care
back turned
to the one shedding attachment and fear
strike trash destroy recycle delete
release lifeless keys
look away from the dull grey screen
look into his sparkling eyes, green
hold his hand, releasing a life known
hold his hand, reaching for home

Thank you for visiting and reading my poem and story excerpt, written to honor the two-year anniversary of my dad’s passing (2/14/21). I wrote another poem, titled, “You Left Us on a Rainy Valentine’s,” a few months after my father passed, that is featured on my Poetic Reverence page – a page I will be removing soon.

Today I will be participating in day two of the Arizona State University Piper Center’s writing conference – the same university writing center that published my poem, “Buried Roots,” last year in their anthology. ✍😊 Enjoy your weekend and be well. 💗 Michele

Find me on Instagram sharing a sprinkling of self-indulgent selfies and photos from the sunny Sonoran Desert ~ @mlsefton

© 2021 Michele Lee Sefton. All Rights Reserved.

64 thoughts on “His last two quarters

    1. Thank you for reading and leaving a note, Barbie. 🙏 With my brother and stepmom’s permission I shared my story, that I needed to write, for me. Losing a loved one can be heartbreaking and death is an uncomfortable subject for many, but writing about it has been most healing for me. I have also witnessed the healing benefits of writing in many others, assisting the author of The Story You Need to Tell, Sandra Marinella, in writing workshops. Healing that can come when the writer is ready to write, which may take some time. 💕

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading to the end, Travis. 🙏
      I am happy we remembered the quarters too. It made us laugh and smile. I probably need to put a disclaimer on this one. Grab a tissue or keep scrolling if the subject is too personal or too sad. Death is part of life, but we aren’t always in the place to face it. Never, I suppose, when it is a loved one.💗

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh, you’re welcome! Yeah, like you mentioned, such a nice final detail to the whole moment. A disclaimer probably isn’t such a bad idea. Grab a tissue! It’s so hard sometimes. You think you are mentally prepared for it, and then the moment comes, and nothing can prepare you for it when it happens. Thanks again for sharing this story!🤗

        Liked by 2 people

    1. In my experience, even when all details seem to be handled surrounding handling a loved one’s end-of-life affairs, there are always unexpected decisions to attend to, and sweet moments too. 💓
      Thank you, Krissy, for reading. Blessings to you too, poet.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Those moments that are a balanced blend of sad and sweet are rare, and such a contradiction, but when we experience them, they are lasting and define the beauty (and pain) of this human journey. 💖 We were given the quarters back at the mortuary. Also sad and sweet.

      Thank you for reading and sharing, Cindy.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. My brother took great care to shave our dad, as best he could, and comb his hair, before dressing him in his final outfit. Wanting to remember every detail and to give my brother this final father-son moment, I stood bedside and quietly watched my brother lovingly and calmly dress our father for his final bon voyage.

    I teared up at this, Michele. Thank you for sharing. It’s beyond lovely.

    -David

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Don’t make me do the same, David. I can’t cry during a writing conference. 😉 Actually, one of the (few) benefits of an online conference is, no one can see me cry. 😆 Writing that piece, along with other stories and poems about my dad have delivered many tears. Part of the healing journey. I am sure you can relate.
      Thank you for reading and letting me know the section that stood out to you. Witnessing that moment will continue to stand out to me as a spontaneous act of compassion, connection, and love between a father and son. 😢 💓🙏

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh my gosh Michele, this brought back so many memories of me doing my mother’s makeup and hair before her wake. This was truly one experience that was not only heart-wrenching, 😦 but your storytelling was so emotional, even though lighthearted throughout your narrative. Thanks so much for sharing. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Kym, your personal share about your mom made me tear up. Thank you for sharing. So intimate and beautiful. 😢💓💕 Sharing personal stories can make us feel vulnerable, but doing so can connect us with others who have walked similar paths, which enriches lives. It has me this morning. Thank you. 🙏

      Liked by 1 person

    1. A truism written by someone who writes with an emotive, heartfelt, and intelligent pen. Thank you.💗 My story might be longer than a few words to some, 😉 but I love the process of stepping back into a lived moment and doing my best to select the “perfect” word or phrase to retell the story or emotion. Thank you for stopping by and sharing some emotions with me today. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  3. A bittersweet but beautiful memory captured in words! I particularly loved the touching scene of Nick’s final tribute to his father. The smallest things mean the most . . . such as the elegant, grieving photo you accompany this writing with. It drives the emotions home.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Words and dance provide a way for me to release memories and emotions. 💞I am grateful for your words. So true – small sincere gestures enrich our life, especially when they are given from an open and loving heart. Thank you for your commentary on my photo. I love photography, which can be a challenge in front of and behind the lens, but I love learning and enjoy the storytelling potential of photos.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading, Nico. I would not have been able to share our story one year ago, but time softens grief and allows us to appreciate details that may be too painful following loss. For those of us who write, writing is a wonderful vehicle for releasing sadness and connecting with others. 🙏

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This is really a wonderful heartfelt piece. Your bring reality up right between our eyes, which death of a loved one often does. It is very special that you are able to share this very personal account with all of us. Wishing you many good memories of you your father as you remember his passing!
    dwight

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I appreciate your comments, Dwight. I would not have been able to share this personal piece one year ago, but time softens pain and also allows us to find and focus on the sweet moments. Being able to show vulnerability and share this touching story also shows me how much I have grown as a person over the last year. Writing has contributed greatly to that growth. 🙏

      Like

    1. Thank you so much. I happily accept a virtual hug and offer it back to you. 🤗 Marking the two year anniversary of my dad’s passing brings me to a place of peace and joy for the time I did have with him. 🙏 Happy Sunday to you.

      Like

      1. thesojourningwolf

        Yes ma’am. I tried something new and it’s backfired on me…. people keep saying they can’t access it (or so they say) but I’m still around.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Al Bell

    I began year 87 today and admit to a bit of self-indulgence. That includes leisurely spending time with your mind. Not an act of personal invasion; rather, a process of absorbing what you share of it with us. Reflection, wisdom, humor, pathos, and many other emotions that poetry and story-telling convey better than any other format for many of us. Not so rarely, a little slice of soul leaks out on the page as well.
    I rediscovered this beautiful story and poem of respect and love. That you were able to share that priceless time with your brother and then capture it with such simple elegance is surely a tribute to your father. It’s stark clarity, exemplified by the clothes, the shave, the quarters, that revealed so much about the man, conveys authenticity as a form of love that only simplicity can properly capture.
    Now, a quiet stillness allows me to experience the gift of another in a long string of years while images of parents, daughter, friends, service mates, far ahead of me in the adventures beyond life reflect in my mind’s eye. There is no price that can be placed on them or on the memories of their last breaths. Sacred tokens of lives shared and–temporarily-lost.
    Thank you, Michele, for such a gift. It turns out that happiness comes in many shapes, too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Happy Birthday, Al. Gifts are what you should be receiving on your birthday and yet, I am the one receiving gifts from you in the form of your eloquent words. Like looking at a breathtaking painting that leaves the viewer in silent reverence, your writing has that effect on me. I will quietly bask in the beauty of your art, your words, and continue with the theme of stark clarity and simple elegance and say just two more words to you. Thank you. 💗

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s