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Cake and Ice Cream

"Holding Hands With Reality" is mostly poetry but includes prose.
This is both a tribute to my Dad and description of our last three days together before he died.

My dad was a vegetable the last two years of his life. His body and brain shriveled up but his heart kept beating and breath moved slowly in and out of flesh just one breath away from being a corpse. But there was still a sparkle in his eyes. I sat with him the last three days and twirled a lock of his snow-white hair, held his hand and sang the old hymns “Lord of the Dance,” “Amazing Grace,” “For the Beauty of the Earth,” and “Simple Gifts” over and over again.

“‘Tis a gift to be simple
“‘Tis a gift to be free
“‘Tis a gift to come round
“Where we ought to be”

I didn't sleep. I didn't sleep because Dad didn't sleep. It finally dawned on me on the second day that dad did not want to die in his sleep. He wanted to die wide-awake and with his eyes wide open. “Angel of Death, you will get this man, but not with out a fight.”

“For the beauty of the earth
“For the glory of the skies
“For the love which from our birth
“Over and around us lies.”

Dad grew up a farm boy in the Ozarks. He left home at 18 to work the wheat harvests in Kansas. He and his fellows worked the combines by day, slept in the barns and went to town on the weekends. It was 1919. The “War To End All Wars” was over and dad had missed it. His fellows invited him to a meeting. It was a social thing and everyone was going. It was the Klan. It caught him by surprise. When it came his turn to stand up, he did and told them he didn't want anything to do with them and left. The next day, some of his fellows didn't talk to him. He told me that story in 1966 when I got back from the civil rights march on Jackson, Mississippi.

”Dance then where ever you may be
“I am the Lord of the dance said He.”

Dad was paralyzed for many months before he died-unable to speak or communicate in any way but his eyes shined and I know the soul peering through those magnificent windows in this wall of flesh we call our bodies could see. And I know he knew I was there.

“Through many dangers, toils, and snares
“I have already come:
“'Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
“And grace will lead me home.”

In 1971, Mom and Dad stopped by my house in Chicago on their way to go fishing in Ontario. We didn't know then that it was our last day together. We had lunch at their favorite restaurant, Ann Sather's, each of us devouring a piece of strawberry pie. We watched the sailboats from Waveland Park and drove in beautiful sunshine up Lakeshore Drive past the apartment where they lived when first married in 1927 and on to the Bahi Temple in Wilmette. Dad waited on the porch and watched the magnificent trees dance in the wind. Mom and I went in and sat in the cool sacredness of the temple in silent communion. One hour after catching a three-pound Rainbow Trout, Mom died of a massive heart attack surrounded by the beauty of the northern forest.

“For the wonder of each hour
“Of the day and of the night
“Hill and vale and tree and flower
“Sun and moon and stars of light
“Lord of all, to thee we raise
“This our hymn of grateful praise”

On the third day, the head nurse came to me and said, “You have to get some rest. I have an empty bed where you can nap. “ O.K. But wake me up if there is any change.” I slept for two hours. I could see his eyes look for me when I came back into the room. I wrapped my finger around his lock of pure white hair and began to sing.

“And when we're in the valley of love and delight”
“By turning, turning we come ‘round right.”

The nurse came to tell me that there had been a birthday party in the lounge and that there was cake and Ice cream and that I should go get some while she and the other nurse turned my father. I'm numb and cake and ice cream seem like a good idea. I go get some and come right back. One of those hospital curtains separates me from my dad as the nurses do their work. I am thinking that this is the best cake and ice cream I have ever tasted. One of the nurses runs from behind the curtain and out the door. I hear the P.A. system, “STAT 119.” That's this room. The doctor runs in and ducks behind the curtain. Healthcare professionals are doing their job. I wonder if they know how to sing hymns to the dying. I think to myself, “You old fox, you bite the big one and you send me out for cake and ice cream.”