Last night I dreamed that I sat down with my father to record his life history. In my dream, he was seated in a wheelchair, but he was full of energy and smiles, like he was before the event that started his neurologic decline. His face no longer drooped on the left, but instead, was perfectly symmetric. His hazel eyes sparkled when he smiled and joked with me, the way he once used to. In my dream, he was going to tell me everything about his past, and I planned to write every word of it down. I carried a black pen and a blank notebook filled with white, college-ruled paper, ready to be filled with my father’s story.
But in my dream, we kept getting interrupted. Each time I sat next to him, ready to write, someone intervened and pulled my attention away from him. I never was able to write a word.
And then I woke up.
Today, my father is lying in a hospital bed and he’s unable to speak to us. He cannot move the left side of his body. He cannot swallow the secretions that pool in his throat, and when he coughs, he sounds as if he is choking. He does not open his eyes to look at me, and he will not wake up.
He had a large stroke yesterday, or maybe even the night before. I keep trying to pinpoint when it happened. When exactly did his heart flick off a clot that traveled in an instant to his right middle cerebral artery? Was it when I was sitting at his bedside in the emergency room, in that uncomfortable folding chair, thinking he was just sleepy from the Ativan he was given? Was it shortly after I went home that night? Or was it first thing Friday morning, while I was heading to clinic? I realize it doesn’t matter when it happened. What matters is that it happened, and that he will not recover.
I regret not seeing him one last time while he could speak to me. His last words to me on Thursday night were, “Do they think this is serious?” I want to remember different words.
I regret not canceling my clinic duties yesterday morning. If I had been there, maybe his stroke would have been recognized sooner. [I know that it wouldn’t have mattered, but I can’t help but regret this.]
I regret not ever taking the time to sit with my father, when he was fully himself, and writing down his story. Because when he is gone, I would have had the physical reality of his story to cling to, rather than just my imperfect memories.