It happened every day. The evening news had just ended and bedtime was fast approaching. The end of another day that was just like yesterday, and the day before, and the day before, and the day before…

My phone would ring and the caller i.d. would say “Dad.” Every. Single. Night. When I couldn’t pick up, he’d leave a message that was always the same: “I didn’t do much today. My blood pressure is good. My sugar is good. I feel good, I don’t hurt or ache anyplace. Well, I don’t have much to tell you.” After the first couple of times, I could no longer listen to his messages because the sound of his voice would make me cry. Not because he sounded depressed or sad; he didn’t. It was because I felt sad for him. His half-broken body in a wheelchair, dependent upon others for everything. I saw defeat, finality, and all that he had lost. His freedom, his independence, his happily busy life, his connection to family and friends, his healthy body that he had total control over. There were two things Dad always hated: boredom and inactivity. Now he was stuck with both.

During the final year of his life, he didn’t call as much, then not at all, because his brain was no longer functioning enough for him to be able to dial the phone. Frustrating for him. Heartbreaking for me. He kept saying his phone wasn’t working because he couldn’t get through to me. I didn’t have the heart to tell him there was nothing wrong with his phone, he was simply no longer able to use it. Maybe I should have been more honest with him, but I was never able to slash him with the sharp blade of truth that would drain all the remaining hope from his eyes. Even three months before he died, he was asking me if he had enough money in his bank account to buy a used car. He wanted to get out and drive around a little. Instead of saying, “Dad, you can’t even dial a phone! How are you going to operate a car?!?” I told him he didn’t have enough money to get a decent car, but if he just wanted to get out more, we could make that happen. But he soon lost interest in even that.

I’m so thankful that the fall of 2016 stayed relatively warm and mild, even into early November. During one of my last visits, I had wheeled him outside so we could sit in a gazebo on the grounds of the nursing home. It was a beautiful, brisk fall day. Dry leaves crackled in the breeze and a couple of squirrels scampered among the trees on their afternoon errands. Conversation with Dad was no longer possible, so we just sat quietly, holding hands. He was slumped in his wheelchair, chin to chest, and looked to be sleeping. But he continuously rubbed his thumb over the back of my hand. I knew he couldn’t be sleeping if he was doing that, and I hoped this simple action was as comforting to him as it was to me.

I found myself wishing I could apologize to him for every smart-mouthed retort I ever shot at him as a teenager. I wished I could tell him how much I regretted not asking him more questions and listening to his answers. How much I missed being able to make him laugh. How much I missed the sound of his laughter. How much I wished we could listen just one more time to bluegrass music and I could see his eyes light up when his favorite song, “Rocky Top” came on.

It’s so easy to say “don’t waste time!” But really, listen to me: for the love of God, don’t waste time. Every night at 7 p.m. I'm reminded. Don’t waste time.

Published by Kelly Z Conrad