He looked like a skeleton in the hospital bed. Nothing like the strong man I knew growing up. The man who picked me up and threw me into the air with ease to catch me and bite my cheeks, his blue eyes twinkling with his laughter. The many wires and tubes wound around his body, the bandages on his head, the needles in his arms made him seem unreal. Not my papa. Not my papa.
I slept in his hospital room the night before, curled on a plastic bench at his side. In the night he called out for my grandmother, his daughters, me, my cousin. Each time I came to his side and took his hand, calming him until he fell back to sleep. Only once did he awake and know me, tell me he loved me and he was glad I was with him. He didn't want to be alone here. I didn't actually sleep. I just laid there, listening to him breathe, praying I would continue to hear that slight snore.
The next morning, he was smiling and happy, but not Papa. We got him to stand and walk a few steps. Then I made the nurses leave when he began to get agitated, and I turned on the tv to his favorite - a western starring Clint Eastwood.
We sat and watched in silence, staring at the tv. Finally I turned to Papa, trying my hardest to build up my strength for what I knew I needed to do.
"I love you papa..." I began with this line. He already knew it, somewhere inside of him, where he was still him, he knew this with all his heart. "You have to go now. You can't stay for us. If you have to leave, you can. You can let go."
And I kissed his forehead and cried silent tears. His blue eyes just stared at me and he started humming, his head nodding along with the beat. My hand found his hands, and I clutched them tightly, memorizing every detail with my eyes and my touch.
Five days later, the hospital called us at home. His health was failing, he wasn't going to make it through the night. When we arrived, it was too late. He had passed moments before we reached his room. I still hurt. But I think he had already said his goodbyes. And he knew we had said ours. He wanted to go alone this time.
I'm glad you let go.