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  • Pura Vida Connections

Great Hospital Raid by Russell Giles


A Father’s Passing

Congestive heart failure allows no easy exit

The pain spasms defy anticipation

And medication barely masks

The muscular contractions’ intensities

Each hurt fractures a treasured breath

Hospitals allow a private man few dignities

The nurses’ pragmatic kindnesses

Often drift to tortured interruption

As records policy demands brutal routine—

Wake every two hours for pulse and BP,

Blood drawn twice daily from now hiding veins

Small pains cast upon a greater pain

Yet still he is so patient and polite.

The family (long separated in different lives) gathers for five days

Resurrecting old rivalries, becoming siblings again

Sleeping fitfully on well worn lounge couches and armed chairs

Walking empty hallways long past visiting hours

Meeting over stale coffee, recalling times past

Finally negotiating small truces after they watch over

Their once strong and gentle sire’s troubled breathing

Willing it and the pain to stop.

Each son and daughter and then frightened wife

Has had their own private moments with him

Each hoards the depth and equanimity of his love,

Blessed by so rare a thing in his eyes—

Complete acceptance and unconditioned pride.

On the sixth afternoon in the snow they move to hospice.

The once wayward wandering son (first born male)

Now a man himself past fifty

Stands this last days vigil alone.

The exhausted family gratefully allowed to miss the final hours.

But this son (who has known more of death than the father)

Cherishes the silent moments in the lowering dark

Watching the stuttered rise and fall of his old man’s chest.

Chanting a silent one word request

To all the lost gods he knows: “Soon?”

In the blackest hours of a new day

The dying man’s discomfort force him to one last sit up.

The two manage it slowly, the son rolling the torso

Pulling withered legs over the bedding’s edge

Then hefting trembling shoulders to upright.

He then props his father’s brow against his own to hold balance

They are like two monks bowing to one another

Each striving to achieve the lower homage.

And in their eyes both opened

They say all the silences.

Just before dawn, the old man rolls to his side

For perhaps one final sleep

His breaths so long apart yet strangely strong!

I let go my practiced meditations, my compassioned detachments.

I am good with the deaths of others

Smiling away the fears and honoring their last privacies.

But I would steal a moment of my own with this, my dad.

I sit on the floor and lean against the high mattress

My head just beneath his face and opened mouth

I let my father’s last breaths wash over my face and rustle my thinning hair.

I let myself be little again and hold my daddy’s hand

So wrinkled and yet so soft!

Once more I am finally home safe in his love.

I drop to dozing just before he leaves me.

When I wake, a gray dawn drifts through the windows.

Only a heavy body remains to be gently straightened

And posed for the undertaker’s assistant.

I help him lift this dead weight and watch the cart wobble out.

Then I am alone in this now strange room crying into my dad’s last pillow

A long awaited grief and gratefulness.