I pull in the driveway just as the shadows are starting to lengthen and the afternoon is at its golden magical moment. Its been a long day and my feet are killing me. As I walk up the deck steps to the back door I don’t hear our two dogs barking – which is strange, because they usually bark when a leaf blows by the window – never mind when they hear footsteps on the trex decking. But no matter – I’m tired. I open the door and take a step into the dim coolness of my kitchen – shedding my sweater as I walk in.
I’m greeted by Miss Nellie – our old greyhound, who lifts her head off the couch and grins at me, tail thumping. For a millisecond I accept this – then I freeze. Nellie’s been at the Rainbow Bridge for close to two years now. Then I hear his voice behind me – “What’s for supper, Donna Jean?” Dad? Oh, Daddy…. I spin around and RUN, fast as I can, hugging him tightly. He’s real, and I’m not hallucinating. “Take it easy kiddo”, he says, “I’m still recuperating. I just got the OK to drive again today.” That’s when I know. It’s June 6, 2007. Its not the date I woke up to this morning – but when I stepped through my back door this afternoon it’s where I ended up. And I’ve been given a rare gift. One more last afternoon with my father.
I frantically try and think of any way to keep him at my house for as long as possible, as we chat about the girls and wait for them and my husband, to get home. Its surreal. My brain is telling me this isn’t possible, but oh, my heart…. my heart. I don’t know how I manage to keep it together; as this great big lump of emotion in the center of my chest tries to work its way up my throat and explode out of me. But I do keep it together, barely. Dad doesn’t seem to notice. There’s so much I want to tell him, but can’t. The crew gets home just as I think I can’t stand any more and they prove a distraction. I’m in for another shock – when I left them this morning they were 20 and 14. Now, they’re 14 and 8. We decide on pizza for dinner and Grandpa is highly encouraged to stay. As usual, the girls have him wrapped around their fingers, and so he does. I content myself watching him with them, remembering how much they mean/t to him and how much he loves/loved being their grandfather.
Time slows, I start to almost feel like this is normal – and then it suddenly accelerates as Dad gets ready to leave – he’s heading for an AA meeting – just like he did before. My heart sinks because I know he’s leaving and this is the last time I’ll see him – again. Don’t go Dad. Stay awhile. But the time arrives. I know it, and I know I can’t stop him. I tell him unequivocally to take it easy – reminding him (as I follow him out to the car this time) that he has to see the surgeon before he goes back to mowing lawns and landscaping. But I know it won’t make any difference. There really are no do-overs. What was, was. What is, is. And what will be, will be. The timeline is locked in, and on June 7, 2007 he will have a massive heart attack while unloading his lawn mower at a clients house and he will pass away before I can get to the hospital to say goodbye. “I know,” he says. “Love you. Sayonara, Kemosabe. Keep the Faith.” “Bye Dad, I love you too!” And with that, he leaves – just like before.
As I turn and walk back up the driveway the light shifts back to golden for an instant. I hear the dogs barking inside the house. I go back through the door again, back to my future. I smile through the tears I can now let loose – because I got my chance to say goodbye, after all.