The phone rang, buzzing me into consciousness. I drove two straight hours to the hospital to get to you, with no recollection of how I got there. I saw you lying there with too many machines and tubes snaking into your broken body.
I asked the cardiologist and neurologist what your chances were.
“Oh, baby girl, he doesn’t have one.” I stared into her, willing her to be wrong.
We signed the DNR that told the nurses and doctors to not restart your heart when it inevitably stopped beating.
“You all need to start saying goodbye. He won’t have much time.”
I went first. I walked into the room and stared at you for ten minutes. I memorized the serial number on one of your machines. 109805. Sometimes, when I close my eyes, I still see 109805.
I grabbed your swollen, calloused hand and held it in mine, willing you to open your eyes and smile. You didn’t.
I tried to think of something to say to you that would somehow smooth over the previous 21 years of anger, addiction, bitterness, and hurt. I wanted you to know exactly how I felt.
I took a deep breath and listened to my heart pound in my ears. I tried to push my own heartbeat into the palm of your hand. You stayed still.
“Daddy,” I started. Then I stopped.
I stared at you for another 5 minutes.
“Daddy, I want you to know I know why you have to leave me. It’s okay. I tried to leave once too, remember? You told me I had to stay here with you, so I did. I should’ve thought to say it back.”
You had no response.
“Daddy, I love you. Even when you ignore me; even when you put your addiction before me. Even when you slurred the words ‘I love you’ until they were barely distinguishable. I love you, through every relapse, through every addiction, through every time you call me a name that isn’t the one you gave me.”
I imagined you sitting up, hugging me, and telling me you love me. This is what you would do if your brain hadn’t been starved of oxygen for 15 minutes straight when your body hit the floor.
“Daddy, I know you love me. I know you think of me and I know you’ve tried your best. I don’t blame you. And Daddy, I need you to know I forgive you.”
Your machines started beeping and a red light on one of the machines started flashing in time with my heartbeat. I killed you.
Your nurse ran in to check your machines. Although your blood pressure was scary low, it started to stabilize. The nurse asked what was happening when it happened. I told her we were just chattin’. She asked what we were chattin’ about. I told her that I was trying to forgive you. With the worn, tired smile of an ICU nurse who has witnessed death every day of her career, she said words that I have held in my white knuckles for the past year and a half: “He heard you.”
She left, and then it was just us again. “Okay, Pops, you gotta calm down until I’m done okay? Because listen, Ty and Chris and Mom and Kay and Zach all still have to say goodbye and if they don’t get a chance they’re gonna be mad. Play it cool, okay? I’m not done yet so listen.
“You aren’t the only one needing forgiveness here. For all the times I ignored your calls, for the times I didn’t tell you I loved you back, and for all the times I lied to get out of seeing you. I’m sorry. I am so sorry, Daddy. I know we have a lot to work through but you are going to leave so we need to get it all out right here okay? I am so sorry.”
I rested my head on your chest and whispered how sorry I was for everything I could remember. My tears were getting tangled in your tubes and making the tape come off of your chest, so I sat up.
“Daddy, I know we couldn’t get it all taken care of today, but just know you can go and I’ll keep working on it okay? We will be able to smile into each other’s faces and say with confidence, ‘I forgive you.’ We will be able to fall into each other’s arms and know that Jesus is restoring the pieces that we’ve broken. You have to go soon, and you will see Jesus before I do. But you can go with boldness and confidence, knowing that there is no bitterness anymore, just complete understanding that sometimes there will be unfinished business. I forgive you. I love you.”
An hour later, your heart stopped beating. Your wife, the woman whom you loved deeply, held your hand as you left us.
Daddy, I meant what I said. I forgive you. I wish you were here so I could remind you. My stomach turns at the thought of you feeling shame or guilt for your actions. I think of you every day and when I feel my chest tighten, I remember the promise I made to you on our Last Day Together. I forgive you. I am still forgiving you. I will keep forgiving you.