Nothing prepares you to see someone you love in that condition. Nothing.
Every breath was a struggle, and the rest of his energy focused on trying to flutter his eyes open for brief glimpses. Each flutter revealed a struggle to focus. His eyes would tumble around till they found the ceiling tiles, struggling to stay open. He couldn't close his mouth--a cruel irony. His mouth sat there awaiting words that no amount of force or coaxing would make come.I grabbed his hand, and mom let him know I was there. He tried to speak to me several times but only groans of words came out of his body.
A surreal feeling creeped into my bones as flashbacks of him in better health and better times played in my mind. When Wayne came into my family's lives, he fit instantly. We developed a playful relationship of pranks and joking around. His favorite pranks required an audience. Whenever my friends visited the house, Wayne would appear in the room with the swagger of a wild west gunslinger, shoot out his hand and look me dead in the eye.
"Kiss my shoes, boy," he'd say with arm outstretched for a handshake.
And me, in my 15-year-old cockiness, thought that I could handle it, every time. And every time Wayne would find the pressure point in my hand and watch my knees buckle as I went to the ground to a roar of laughter and cheers from my friends.
After his attempts to speak to me failed, my mom leaned over his hospital bed and whispered, "Make him kiss your shoes, Wayne."
I watched a corner of his mouth start to curl as he squeezed as hard as he could. His hands were frail but rough--tarnished is a better way to put it. I could feel every manual labor job he ever had in the wrinkles and creases in those old mitts.
Mom narrated our last joke, "Oh you got him Wayne! He's going down--he's down! You still got it, babe!"
Wayne died while I was flying back to Los Angeles two days later.
I found out he passed away at the beginning of what became a nine-hour layover at the Denver airport...more thanks to the Polar Vortex. There was nowhere to hide, nowhere to be alone with my emotions. I just had to act like everything was fine and that it was just another travel day.
This is not the first time I've lost a father figure, but if I'm honest, it is the first time I lost a dad.
Wayne took up a role in my life that I don't believe my biological father could ever have filled even if he'd lived past my 11th birthday. Facing the death of Wayne revived memories of losing my biological father and ignited a lot of reflection and a deeper curiosity about both men, their lives, personalities and how they molded me. During the two weeks I was home for the funeral, I learned more and found a deeper understanding of these two strikingly contrasting men - my father, and my dad. Two completely different people, with completely different outlooks, habits and ways of life -- but I needed both of them, the good and the bad parts of both to shape me into who I am and what I will become.
I found a quote that I felt was very fitting and that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.