For Beth, who gave Providence its wings,
And for Mom, who provided the wind for it to fly
Loss and Found
The average daughter respects her father. She might regard him as her hero, or she may place him so high on a pedestal that no object of her affection could ever compare. To me, my father deserved more than respect, or loyalty, or even love. I had a reverence for him. He was more than Superman; he was God.
One of my earliest memories was of two men cowering in my father’s office as he spoke words I didn’t understand. His verdict was always final and never argued with. Not even death could touch him.
When I answered my phone on December fourteenth, that reality came to an end.
“Nina,” my mother sighed, “he doesn’t have much time. You should come now.”
I set the phone beside me on the bed, careful to keep my hands from trembling so much that it tumbled to the floor. The past few weeks had been an alternate universe for me, as I had been faced with one horrible call after another. The first from a nurse at the hospital informing me of my father’s car accident. My number was the most recently dialed on his cell phone, leaving me with the horrifying task of being the one to break the news to my mother. In his last days, when reports of no improvement were replaced with gentle suggestions to prepare for the inevitable, I was thankful to be at the receiving end of the phone calls.
It felt strange to walk across the room and grab my coat and keys. The tasks seemed too mundane to begin the journey to say goodbye to my father. I lamented the ordinary life that seemed so long ago as I walked out to my car and turned the ignition.
My father had risen to the top of the shipping industry ruling with an iron fist, but I knew the gentle side of him. The man that left important meetings to take my trivial phone calls, kissed my scrapes, and rewrote fairytales so that the princess always saved the prince. Now he lay helpless in his bed, fading away in the vast bedroom he shared with my mother.
Our housekeeper, Agatha, greeted me at the front door. “Your mother’s expecting you, Love. You best get upstairs.”
Agatha took my coat, and then I climbed the stairs, feeling the bile rise higher in my throat with every step.
His private nurse brushed past me as I entered the room, and I winced at the sight of him. His face was sallow with a thin sheen of perspiration, and his usually clean shaven jaw was darkened with whiskers that crowded his parched lips. My mother spoke soft, comforting words to him as his chest heaved with every labored breath. The muted beeps and humming of the pumps and monitors were the background music to my worst nightmare.
Like the other times I’d visited my father since his accident, my legs transformed into deep-seeded roots that tunneled through my shoes and plunged into the wooden floor. I couldn’t go forward or retreat.
My mother looked up with weary heartbreak in her eyes. “Nina,” she called. “Come, dear.”
Her hand lifted to summon me forward but my feet wouldn’t move. She sighed in understanding and walked toward me, her arm still reaching out in front of her. I couldn’t take my eyes off of my father’s feeble attempts to breathe as she cupped her fingers around each of my shoulders and eased me forward. After a few reluctant steps, I stopped again.
“I know,” she whispered.
Peeling my shoes from the floor, I let her guide me to his bedside. My first instinct was to help him, but the only thing left to do was to wait for his suffering to end.
“Jack, darling,” my mother said in a soothing tone. “Nina’s here.”
After watching him struggle for sufficient breath, I leaned down to whisper in his ear. “I’m here, Daddy.”
His breath skipped a bit and he mumbled inaudibly.
“Don’t try to talk. Just rest.” My shaking fingers reached out to his hand. “I’m going to stay with you.”
“Cynthia?” My father’s attorney and friend, Thomas Rosen, called to my mother from the back corner of the room. With a pained expression she glanced at my father, clutched me to her chest for a moment, and then quietly walked to Thomas’ side. Their voices became a stream of humming no louder than the machines attached to my father.
He sucked in another breath while I tenderly swept his salt and pepper hair away from his moist brow. “Neen…,” he swallowed, “Nina.”
My eyes wandered to my mother, who was in silent conversation, searching her face one last time for a sign of hope. Seeing the sorrow in her eyes, I looked back to my father and prepared to say goodbye.
“Daddy,” I began, but words failed me. My eyes closed as the urge to ease his suffering grew insistent. A faltering breath escaped from my chest and I started again. “I should tell you that it’s okay…that you don’t have to stay for me, but I can’t.”
His breathing slowed. He was listening to me.
“I don’t want be the one to let you go, Daddy. I want you to get better. But, I know that you’re tired. So if you want to sleep…I’ll be okay.” The corners of his mouth shook as they attempted to turn up.
My mouth smiled as my face crumpled around it. “I’ll miss you, Daddy. I’m going to miss you so much.” I sucked in another breath and he did the same, but his was different this time. He had no more fight left in him.
I glanced back to my mother, who watched me with heavy, wet eyes. He took in another deep breath and slowly exhaled. His life slipped away as the last bit of oxygen left his lungs. The sound reminded me of a tire losing air, slow and level until there was nothing left. His body relaxed, and his eyes became vacant and unfocused.
The nurse silenced the solid tone of the heart monitor while I scanned his peaceful face. The realization that my father was gone washed over me in waves. My insides wrenched, and my arms and legs felt foreign, as if they no longer belonged to me. I nodded and smiled, ignoring the tears that spilled over my cheeks. He trusted my words, and so he let go.
Thomas touched my shoulder and moved to the head of the bed. He reached over to place his hands over my father’s eyes and whispered something beautiful in Hebrew. I leaned over my father’s chest and hugged him. For the first time in my life, he didn’t hug me back.
Looking down to my hands, I scanned the obituary from the funeral. Separated by a dash, the dates of my father’s birth and death were displayed in elegant font on the front cover. I grimaced with the recognition that such a short line of ink was meant to signify his life.
The paper fit snugly in the inside pocket of my coat just as the wet sloshing of bus tires approached, slowing to a stop in front of me.
The door opened, but I didn’t look up. The sounds of commuters stepping out onto the sidewalk never came. My neighbors had little need for public transportation, specifically so late in the evening. Those that used it at all were the hired service that worked in the colossal residences nearby.
The bus driver cleared his throat to get my attention, and when I failed to acknowledge him, the door swept shut. The air breaks released, and the bus slowly pulled away from the curb. I tried not to think about the day that had just taken place, but my memory became saturated with it.
Just as I did in childhood, I rocked back and forth to comfort myself. The warm peach hue had long since left my fingers, reminding me of my father’s folded hands as he lay in his coffin.
A frigid breath of air flooded my lungs and my chest heaved, giving way to the sob that had been clawing its way to the surface. I had thought moments before that my eyes couldn’t cry anymore, and I wondered how much