On November 27, 2012 at 2:25pm, the man who called me “Bugsy” took his last gasp. I can’t really call it a breath.
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It wasn’t extraordinary, but the manner in which the air left his body was. Maybe someone would say that the sound had the “air of finality.” Or maybe that he vanished on the tail of that last wisp of breath, his spirit struggling to escape through such a slim aperture.
His breathing had slowed over a period of minutes, until he gasped every 10 to 15 seconds. I sat sideways in the lift chair next to the bed near his shoulder, stroking his left hand, the one that wouldn’t lay flat after he broke his wrist 20 years ago. The wrist that, conversely, would not let the hand curl around the neck of his banjo. The hand with the lopped off pinky finger from the time he gave a young nephew–an overeager teenager with an itchy trigger finger–a job running the logsplitter. The once sun-leathered farmer’s hand now pale and mottled with colors ranging from cinnamon to eggplant. The hand that no longer squeezed mine back.
His exhale ended in a tiny squeak, something you could imagine coming from a mouse.
But that’s not it exactly. More like a tiny puff of air being pushed through a layer of Saran Wrap lined with moisture.
Not a gurgle. Not the death rattle that so many talk about. Not the air burped out of a Tupperware container. Ridiculous! Cue the laughter. Maybe the tail end of a wheeze from an asthmatic? The sound that comes from between my own lips when I try to exhale every last molecule from my lungs–but not as forced?
This struggle defines my existence.
Now that I am no longer lost in the timber of grief, I grasp at ghosts that are not my father, searching for the right way, an elegant way, to describe that sound, to find THE THING that makes that sound.
My father may rest in peace, but I will not.