Holds a Dying Hand
The man visited his wife’s father. His wife’s father was dying and he had asked for the man to visit him.
The man entered the building where his wife’s father lay dying.
The man asked the girl at the front desk where he could find his wife’s father.
The girl at the front desk told him where he could find his wife’s father.
The man found his wife’s father.
The man found his wife’s father, but he was asleep. The man stood close enough to know that his wife’s father was asleep and not yet dead. But he would be dead in a short time.
The man looked around the place where his wife’s father lay dying, and he wondered if he would die in a place like that. He wouldn’t. He wouldn’t, but he did not know that at the time he looked around the place where his wife’s father lay dying.
The man looked at his wife’s father as he lay asleep, and he thought that was what his wife’s father would look like when he was dead. Except for the slow rising and falling of his chest. The man had decided his wife’s father was dead already. He was asleep, but the man already felt like his wife’s father was dead.
The man sat next to the place where his wife’s father lay sleeping. He sat next to his wife’s father and watched his wife’s father sleep.
The man did not know what to think for some time.
Then the man thought about how little it looked like his wife’s father was suffering. He was asleep, and he was sleeping as peacefully as a child sleeps, but he was dying. When he would be dead, he would appear peacefully dead, but the man did not think anyone could look so peaceful while they were dying. But his wife’s father looked peaceful while he slept and while he was dying.
The man wondered why he had come alone. He could have insisted that his wife join him. But his wife had insisted that he go alone and spend some private time with her father. She had said her father had requested that the man visit him alone. So the man had come alone. And the man wished he had not come alone. He wished he was not alone with the sleeping, dying man.
The man looked at the woman in white when she entered. The woman in white entered and she ignored the man. The man tried to ignore the woman in white, but she provided the only activity in the place where his wife’s father lay dying, so he could not help but watch her.
The man watched the woman in white check his wife’s father. He watched her write something on a piece of paper that lay near the place where his wife’s father lay. He watched her ignore him while she did her work.
Then she did not ignore him anymore. She smiled at him and touched his shoulder and patted his other shoulder. He heard her whisper all is well, then he watched her leave the place where his wife’s father lay dying.
The man wondered what she had meant by saying all is well. He knew his wife’s father was still dying. Things could not be all well. He decided she had meant all was as well as could be expected—under the circumstances.
The man looked at his wife’s father. He looked at him and wondered what it would be like when all was not well. He wondered what his wife would feel as she watched her father die sometime in the coming days. He hoped she would get enough rest while he was with her father. She had spent too much time with him already and needed some rest. But she would not rest again when she returned from her rest. She would not rest after she returned from her rest until her father was dead. And the man wondered how she would feel and what she would see the moment her father died.
The man thought about what little he knew of his wife’s father’s life. The man had not been in his wife’s family long, and his wife’s father had not liked him much. He had not formed much of an opinion about his wife’s father, and did not know much about him. So he did not have much to think about when he thought about his wife’s father’s life.
The man looked at his wife’s father and saw nothing but a man. A simple man who lay sleeping while he was dying.
The man wondered why his wife’s father had asked for him to visit. He had visited a few times before. Enough that he could say he had done his duty, but not so much that he would bother the man who did not like him very much. The man wondered if his wife’s father had anything special to say to him or if he had just wanted his daughter to get some rest and knew the only way to get her to leave him and take some rest was to ask her to have the man visit him alone.
The man knew his wife would grieve. A big part of her life would become empty. The man could feel what her father’s death would mean for his wife, but he could not feel for the dying man anything he wouldn’t have felt for any other dying man.
Then the man reached out and held his wife’s father’s hand. Maybe because it was lying there uncovered near the man, looking like it was waiting for someone to hold it. The man did not know why he held his wife’s father’s hand, and he did not wonder much why he did it. Maybe he would have held such a hand of any other man who lay asleep dying.
When the man touched his wife’s father’s hand, the hand was warm and gave a slight, almost startled reaction, but his wife’s father did not wake up. After the first moment, the hand lay still. Soft and warm and still. And the man wondered if anyone would hold his hand when his turn came to die. No one would, but the man could not know that yet. His death was much too far in the future.
The man held his wife’s father’s hand, and he listened closely for any sound his wife’s father might make. But his wife’s father did not make any sound. His breathing was even and quiet. Even and quiet and peaceful. And the man wondered again what his wife’s father was feeling as he lay asleep dying.
The man wondered what else he could do for his wife’s father. He wondered if coming to visit had been enough. He wondered if he could have brought anything to make his wife’s father’s dying any easier. The man wondered if that was why his wife’s father had asked him to visit. Maybe he had asked the man to visit so he could ask him to bring something to make his dying easier. Something he could not have asked his daughter to bring. Or maybe he wanted to confess something that he could not confess to his daughter. Something another man could hear and know without judgment, to relieve the dying man of some old burden. The man tried to imagine many such things, but none of the things he could imagine could he imagine his wife’s father sharing with him. Anything he could imagine, he imagined his wife’s father preferring to take to his grave than tell another man.
The woman in white entered. She entered and put her hand on the man’s shoulder. The man wondered why she did that. Only when he saw the sympathy in her eyes did he feel that the dying man’s hand he held in his own was cold. His wife’s father had died, and he had not noticed a moment of change. Not in himself and not in his wife’s father who lay asleep dying, but now only dead.
The man thanked the woman in white and left the place to tell his wife that her father was dead.
To read more stories in the series, see the Becomes One Hundred Stories page.