Last Breath

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With each painful breath the light in the old man’s eyes dimmed. The duty nurse had made it clear that he should be wearing the oxygen mask, his son was holding in front of his face. She said his lungs were failing and he needed all the help he...

With each painful breath the light in the old man’s eyes dimmed. The duty nurse had made it clear that he should be wearing the oxygen mask, his son was holding in front of his face. She said his lungs were failing and he needed all the help he could get.

 

The young man who had been by his father’s side since he had arrived in the emergency room was desperate for the old man to follow the nurse’s advice but his father was having none of it. He was determined to breathe unaided.

 

Looking down at his father the young man could hardly believe that this was the same man who had carried him on his shoulders so many years ago, the same man who had once been so fit and active and full of life. Reaching out he stroked the old man’s cheek and then whispered in his ear that everything was going to be all right. The young man wept then, as he remembered all those times his father had said the same thing to him.

 

The young man looked up at two of his sisters who were standing on either side of the examination table holding the old man’s wrinkled and weathered hands. Their eyes were red. Their make up was smudged.

 

The young man did not see two women in there 40s. Instead he saw two little girls and he felt just like a little boy. Fear had transformed them all into frightened children. Their father was dying and there was nothing they could do about it.

 

A nurse had pulled a curtain around them but the noise from the emergency room could not be blocked out. Accident victims were being wheeled passed their cubicle, patients were crying out in pain. The measured footsteps and gentle voices of the doctors and nurses were the only calming sound in an otherwise manic environment.

 

Twice the young man left the cubicle to find out when a doctor would be coming to check on his father. Twice he was told that a specialist had been paged and was on his way. Twice the young man swore under his breath and wished he had studied medicine instead of dreaming his life away.

 

When he returned to his father’s side, his sisters were praying the rosary. It had been so long since he prayed, he battled to remember the words but he found the sound of it soothing. As he rested his face on the old man’s chest, the young man pondered his father’s devotion to his religion. Over the years they had debated religion a thousand times and the young man knew how disappointed his father was that he had stopped practicing his religion but he knew in his heart that he had to follow his own path. The young man had not led a bad life. Just a different one. As he listened to his father’s heartbeat the young man wondered if he had chosen the right path. He had never felt so frightened and alone.

 

Feeling a hand on his shoulder he looked up to find his mother standing beside him. The young man moved out of the way and watched as his she bent to kiss her husband. The old man’s eyes were glazed but as he gasped for another lung full of air, a barely discernible flutter of his eyes showed he knew who had arrived.    

 

The young man joined his sisters at the foot of the bed and watched as their mother whispered quietly in their father’s ear. All of them wondered what it must be like to know that a partner and friend of 55 years was not coming home.

 

A specialist arrived and the look on his face was diagnosis enough. Make him as comfortable as you can he told the nurse.

 

As the old man’s breathing became slower and slower, his family drew closer and closer. They bent to kiss his face and hair then watched in wonder as their white-haired husband and father took his final breath. The old man’s blue eyes brightened and as if renewed, he feebly raised his hand and looked to his left.

 

The young man knew an angel had taken his father by the hand.

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