Loves Last Light

By Ryder Ziebarth

In the Au Bon Pain in the first-floor lobby of Danbury Hospital sun streamed through

floor to ceiling windows; a sharp contract to my father’s shadowy room on the 8th floor, where

he lay unconscious for the second week. The small restaurant with its aroma of food sizzling on

the grill, warm light, and cheery bustle was a godsend. My mother agreed to go to the café with

me for only a coffee. I knew she must be hungry; we’d been together for days and I hadn’t seen

her eat much. She either wouldn’t admit it or didn’t know it herself.

Leaving my weakening father alone even a few minutes made me feel culpable, but we

needed to eat something. Knowing the doctors had not allowed him any nourishment other than

what came from an IV tube seemed cruel. Now, he was drowning in his own fluids from

pneumonia contracted after he’d broken his hip the final set-back in a litany of on-going medical

complications. His eighty-seven-year-old body was tired. He had fought hard for months.

I knew the café’s menu by heart—I had been eating there on and off, whenever Dad had

been admitted from falls from his walker, car accidents, bladder infections. The staff was kind

and sympathetic to my repeated visits. They joked with me about my habit of buying a low-fat

yogurt when I arrived in the morning, then returning later for their berry-laden, sugar-topped

scone to relieve my stress. The tables were always washed down and floors swept clean, the

coffee hot and strong.

Mom and I waved to one of the servers we knew by name, Linda, who was behind the

counter as we walked in. We chose a booth by the large window to feel some of the October 

sun’s afternoon warmth. We were always so cold in Dad’s hospital room, no matter how many

layers we wore. Outside, the maple leaves on the trees in the distant New England Hills had

turned vibrant oranges and reds since Dad was admitted almost a month ago, in the middle of

October. The sky was a cloudless blue-bird shade of blue. Water cascaded down a set of

elaborate stone steps from a fountain installed recently by a donor my mother knew from her

town in Redding. Everything seemed so tranquil, a contrast to what was happening in our own

lives. Autumn was my father’s favorite season. His birthday month, in September.

“I wish we had that kind of money,” Mom said, looking out at the fountain, its granite

wall surrounds, and its’ neat pathways lined with chrysanthemums in shades of magenta and

gold. “I’d like to make a donation to this hospital in Dad’s name. It has done a lot for us over the

years—my back operation, dad’s back, both my knees.” She paused, then added, “Now this.

Damn it all.”

This was the first real reference I heard her make to his impending death.

She wiped the already clean table with a napkin as if to scrub the thought away.

“Mom, do you know what hospice care means?” I was fairly certain she didn’t.

“No,” she said, looking at the menu. “Can you get me a half lemonade and half orange

juice please?”

When I returned with her drink, I folded my hands on top of the table, leaned closer to

her and explained that hospice meant we would stop all of his medications, including the

antibiotics that weren’t working to stop the progression of his pneumonia, remove his IV

feeding tube, and begin administering morphine and sedatives “to make him comfortable.”

“I’ll split the chicken salad with you,” she said, having picked up a menu while I spoke.

“Mom are you listening?”

“Yes. I heard you. I’m thinking. I want some tomato soup, too. You have a cup with me,”

she said, then slipped the menu back between the condiments. Everything on the table was in its

rightful place. “Go order our food from Linda at the counter, will you honey?”

I decided not to press her and slid out of the booth. My knees felt weak with some kind of

complicity. A few minutes later I came back with an overloaded tray—her soup and sandwich, a

bag of Sun Chips, my scone, and a huge chocolate chip cookie. I set everything down in front of

her. She started on the soup.

“Mom,” I said, gingerly, “Do you want to talk to the hospice team here at the hospital?”

She spooned the soup to her lips and stared out at the fountain endlessly flowing over its rocky

steps.

“I guess so. But call your brother, Rob. Tell him to meet us here about 2:00. Can you do

that?”

“Sure,” I said, unable to eat anything, not even my scone.

She devoured the remaining food. I hadn’t seen her eat that much in a week. After lunch,

we went back to Dad’s room. The shade was drawn blocking out all the light. I raised it, unable

to stand the darkness another day. Why had it been perpetually closed? Why hadn’t I noticed

until now?

Mom walked around to his bedside and kissed her husband of sixty years on each of his

closed eyes, then settled in the chair next to him. She reached for his age-spotted hand—so

familiar to me, even more so to her, and said, “Go ahead now, honey, go call your brother. I’ll be

right here with Dad, telling him how beautiful the sunlight is.”

Ryder Ziebarth holds an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts, a degree from Columbia University’s Teachers College in Executive Coaching, and a BA in Communications and Creative Writing from New England College, including a year at The University of London, studying Art History and English Literature. 

As founder and director of the Cedar Ridge Writers Series, she hosts one-day workshops featuring guest instructors and speakers world-wide. Ryder is  currently an associate editor with Brevity: A Concise Journal of Literary Nonfiction.  She is also a committee member with the Nantucket Book Festival in Nantucket, MA.

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