Sometimes his mind took him back to work as a maintenance supervisor at American Airlines, talking about getting the plane out. Other times he saw his mother and father, or talked about a trip home to Pennsylvania. By mid-December, bedridden in hospice, his eyes fixed upwards, unblinking for what seemed like hours.
“What do you see up there?” a hospice aide asked him.
“Four doors,” he said.
“What’s on the other side?” she asked.
“That’s what I’m trying to figure out,” my dad said.
Later: “Is it beautiful?” Dad: “Oh yes.”
Oh, how I loved that answer. The universe’s infinite beauty, beckoning from beyond four doors, the last thresholds to cross before Dad could escape the prison bars of his Parkinson-riddled body.
“You can go right through the door. Any time you want.”
My mother, holding his hand, kissing his forehead. My nephew and niece reminiscing and telling stories about their Pop-pop and laughing. My sister sitting quietly and crying.
Later: “Are any of the doors open?” Dad: “No.”
My sister and I laid across my parent’s queen-sized bed in their pale green bedroom looking at old family photos; my mother sat on a brown metal folding chair next to his hospital bed, her hand wrapped around his wrist.
He was slipping away from us now, his eyes open but unfocused, still looking upward. The door was open now, he said, but no one was there. We drew closer to him, and closer to one another. His breathing quickened. We waited together for his parents, Anna and Peter, to take him through one of the doors.
Dad didn’t speak to us after that, but I imagined that his parents appeared, speaking their impenetrable Polish/Czech dialect Dad once knew but lost in these last years. But somehow, my dad understands them as easily as he did when he was a boy. Maybe because the words flooded back into his brain, or maybe because you don’t need language to understand love when you come home.