“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.
tap, tap, tap
fingers on the keys
typing a list of meds
a final request
type with care
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.