My father, Douglas Cartledge of Middle Bass Island, Ohio, died yesterday evening at a hospice center in Medina, Ohio. He was 87 years old.
My mother, my two daughters, our dear friend Gayle, and I spent the day with him. When we arrived, the staff said he was sinking fast. Mother charged up to the bed and bellowed, WAKE UP, DOUG -- so he did. Not awake-awake with eyes open and talking, but not stepping over the threshold either.
We passed the hours telling stories and laughing while he breathed evenly and peacefully. I don't know if he understood the words, but he knew the rhythms of our voices well enough to enjoy the conversation. And God knows he could hear the laughter. Everybody in the building could hear us laughing.
It was a sad, wonderful day; and in the evening he quietly drifted away. A few more breaths. Two more beats of his heart. And then it was done.
A good death.
We stayed with him for three or four hours until Mother was able to gather herself to leave. Once she said, "It's just so sudden." And then she corrected herself: "No, it isn't. He's been sick for twenty years." At another time, she said, joyfully, "The end of a fabulous love affair!"
It's not the end, of course. The love continues. The beat goes on.