Even my father in his hospital tall bed in St Vincent’s in the city after a burst of pleurisy, a harbinger of his last days with emphysema, looked vulnerable. A far cry from the monster who towered over us when we were little.
He with his long feet, encased in black leather in my memory, though there were times when they were naked, those long-elongated toes with tufts of red hair on each phalange, his wide hands, that were good for slaps, his stubbled chin, so awful to brush against when bedtime came.
There he was in the white sheets of his hospital bed full of apologies on the visit I made one day after work.
‘I have been so bad to you children,’ he said, and I wanted none if it.
I wanted only that I could get through this visit without too much eye contact, too much meaning transiting between us, too much of anything. The strange reversal when children grow up and confront the vulnerability of their parents.
As July reckons, all of us are children when we sleep.
And so it was I liked to gaze at my mother when she was also laid out on her hospital bed, eyes closed, body still, soon to leave her body, her heart stopped in its regular rhythm.
One day in the last three weeks before she died she tried to usher me away. The slight hand gesture, an expression on her face, a glint in those tired eyes that said, leave me alone.
Then she closed them as if by shutting out light she could shut me out too.
But I stayed. I held back, close to the door, out of her sight, and watched as the forced eye closure became involuntary and my mother slipped back into sleep. I watched her face, the wrinkles smoothed into the pillow under the weight of gravity. And imagined that she did not want any of us to see her like this.
Like Susan Sontag railing against death but allowing those photographs so that people could see not only the bright side of this life, her life, her amazing ability with words, her bright sharp eyes, but the drag on her body as the cancer took over.
We’re all children when we sleep, but less so when we die.