I'm writing this as the Amtrak train crosses the Carquinez rail bridge. Eighteen hours ago I was sitting alone in my father's hospice room at the Wuesthoff Rockledge hospital in Florida. The room was dark except for the light from the hallway and the glow from my computer monitor.
I was typing quietly when I noticed I could no longer see my father's chest rising and falling with each breath. He had been sleeping with his eyes and mouth open, unmoving after a second dose of medication to ease his breathing.
I walked over and felt his chest. The red in his lips was fading to an ashen blue. I walked down the hall to the nurse's station. "Can you check my father? I think he has died," I said.
The nurse followed me back to the room. She took out her stethoscope and listened to his chest.
"You should make your calls now," she said. "He'll be gone soon."
My brother and his wife and my stepmother and half-brother had left just a half-hour before. I started calling.
"He's dead," the nurse said. "The heartbeat I heard was just an echo. He hasn't been breathing."
I watched as she took the pillow out from under his legs.
"Can you leave him as he is until the family returns?" I asked.
"I'm sorry," she said. "It helps, you know. To have them lie flat. You know, before they get stiff."
The nurse apologized to my father each time she moved his body to remove the extra pillows and lower the bed.
I asked her if she could close his eyes. She tried but the lids wouldn't stay. After she left I tried.
The sheet was left where it had been when he was sleeping. I watched my mother die in a hospice room in 2003. The nurse covered her head with the sheet after confirming she was dead. After the nurse left, I pulled the sheet back down to where it had been when she was asleep. Something about covering her head bothered me. It seemed inappropriate. At least until my brother and my mother's sister could get to the hospital.
Last night when my half-brother arrived he suggested covering my father's body. I told him to leave the sheet alone until everyone had returned. Later, after everyone had said their goodbyes, he asked his mother if he could cover him now. She agreed. It still seemed wrong to me, but I held my tongue.
Eventually we all left my father's hospice room -- my stepmother to her cat, and my half-brother home to Orlando. My brother, his wife and I ended up keeping our prearranged departure plans. We had a midnight meal at the airport Hyatt and then a three-hour nap before packing up and walking over to the United check-in counter to get our seat assignments for our nonstop flight to San Francisco.
The plane ride home was as uneventful as Wednesday's flight out. The BART ride required a single transfer where I walked off one train and immediately onto the train to Richmond.
At Richmond I walked from the BART station to the Amtrak station -- down one set of stairs and up another. I worked on my computer a little, read a little. I was there a little more than an hour. The weather was nice.
The Amtrak train to Sacramento arrived on time and I boarded for home -- a full circle of my trip.