For Father’s Day, I’m so honored to feature the writing of a Dad blogger whom I’ve admired for many years: Steven Friedman.
Thank you for welcoming Steven, a Bay Area writer and author who lost his wife last summer to breast cancer. Be sure to check out his blog about parenting his two kids solo.
Last summer, I watched my wife’s chest rise and fall, rise and fall, in the hospital bed we had on loan in our living room. Thirty minutes before midnight, I climbed onto her bed and wedged myself next to her. She was warm.
Verna Wefald, my wife of 19 years and the mother of our two children, had been battling breast cancer for five years.
I clasped my hand into hers and told her how much I love her, will always love her. I told her that I will send all our love with her on her journey, and be enveloped by her love after she is gone.
“Verna, when you are ready to go,” I said, “and join your mother in heaven, you should go. She is waiting for you.”
I fell asleep for ten minutes with our apricot-colored miniature poodle, Gigi, atop my stomach. Gigi jumped off me suddenly, waking me up. I stroked Verna’s hair and lightly touched her face.
It was close to midnight, so I went to the kitchen to prepare her medications for the night, while the caregiver, Faye, sat by her side. As I loaded liquid morphine, methadone, or Ativan into various syringes, Faye said urgently, “Steve.”
I bolted into the living room. “You didn’t have to run,” said Faye. Verna’s chest still heaved but the gaps between each breath were lengthening. She was very pale. I knelt down beside her and knew she was about to die.
“Faye, please go upstairs to the bedroom on the right, and wake up her brother,” I said.
Verna’s brother, Jim, and his wife, Liz, padded downstairs. Moments later, just after midnight on August 30, my wife exhaled for the last time. She was gone. I buried my head in her left arm and cried.
I finally went to bed at 4 a.m.. Our five-year old daughter, Maya, woke me three hours later, rustling in bed next to me.
“Maya,” I started, “Mommy is now a star in heaven. She is with Grandma Chela.”
“No,” she said, “You’re joking.”
“No, she died,” I said. “But she’s a star in heaven and will always be in our hearts.”
Verna and I had always told the kids that when people die they become stars in heaven – as we did when my grandmother and mother-in-law died.
That’s when Maya said: “I’m going to check downstairs.”
But the hospital bed had already been stripped clean of its sheets and air mattress.
Maya came back moments later. “Oh, I am sad,” she said. “Mommy died.”
Then she climbed back into bed and said, “Poor Daddy, I will take care of you.”
Later in the day, I drove to pick up our, son, Miguel, 13. (He’d told me that he didn’t want to be home when his mother died, so he’d been staying with his best friend’s family.) I was waiting for him on the sidewalk near his middle school as he strolled up eating a Ben and Jerry’s bar. I put my arm around him.
“Hey, Miguel,” I said, my voice wavering, tears clouding my eyes, “Mommy died early this morning, just after midnight. I think she was peaceful. She just stopped breathing.”
“You were there?”
“Yes,” I answered.
He looked sad, but revealed no other emotion.
After dinner that evening, Maya and I went outside.
“Tell me which star is Mommy,” I said.
Maya pointed to a very bright one that was twinkling right above our home. “That’s Mommy,” I said. “And look how she’s smiling down on us.”
“We can go out every night and look at Mommy,” Maya said.
I gazed at the shining star and said, “I love you, Verna.”
“I love you, Mommy,” Maya said.
Steve, Verna, Miguel, and Maya during their last vacation together:
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