February 21, 2008
By Bridget Sidles, Centerville, IA

The light still shown in her room which remained untouched by anyone else. “She’ll come home soon to clean it up,” her father would kid. The waiting persisted though, and even after his weekly visits that he vowed to continue, the room remained untouched. Yet, no matter how much he was begged by neighbors to just let it be, begged to move on, begged for him to understand she would not return home…he couldn’t.
A person was not dead when in a coma; he or she was very capable of growing and he was not about to think otherwise, especially when that person happened to be his daughter. Tom set up a routine of visiting his daughter each and every week. This routine consisted of a thought out-pattern: Every Thursday, he would bring her favorite smelling candle and her most prized possession—her journal. He loved reading the poems, lyrics, and random writings to her that she had written at a very young age. And this is exactly what he did. For three hours he would read to her, sing to her their favorite lullaby, talk to her about his life and remind her she could not go out with her friends until that room of hers was picked up. Even in the winter months, when the wretched wind blew every once of energy from his body, he would visit his daughter. Those days, the visiting might only consist of him quietly sleeping with her hand lightly gripped by his. Some may not have understood his continuous visits, yet no matter what, he strongly believed that she knew he was there with her.
It was only the first month into winter when the cough started. It came on terribly strong. Dismissing it, Tom once again returned to the hospital bed of his daughter. Yet now, the cough hadn’t stopped for numerous days and his ailing health began to show. Nurses, friends, workmates, persisted that he seek a doctor; he insisted that it wasn’t just a normal “winter cold.” Tom though, could not stand the thought of being sick. His daughter needed him; she needed his weekly visits, and he wasn’t about to stop merely to find out why his cough endured.
Thursday afternoon Tom’s appointment started. It was exactly his choice yet the setting seemed quite coincidental. He was reading to his daughter when the cough kicked in again, yet this time, his powerless body could not fight back. Strange and confusing motions took a toll pulling at his mind. It was as though he were being pressed down by an invisible weight. The weight pulled on his legs causing him to buckle in pure exhaustion; eyes spinning, he recalled peering at his daughter, not wanting to say good-bye…
Nurses, hearing the collapse, rushed to his side, and thus, his unwanted appointment began. Tests were taken, blood was drawn, and the only answer that fit his situation was one he could not lose. Lung cancer had been deteriorating his body the past few winter months.

Cautiously opening her eyes, Sarah took a deep breath and secured her surroundings. Bewildered by her appearance, fear took over almost instantly as she began to scream. Her heartbeat accelerated and body shook as nurses gathered all around in pure astonishment. It had been ten years since they had seen her eyes open, ten years since she had uttered one word. Now, the week her father missed his visit…Sarah knew.
It took almost a full week for Sarah to understand what had happened to her. The strange thing was that Sarah felt as if she remembered so much about the past ten years. She even knew how old she was and a few of the family events that had occurred. She replayed her father’s voice articulating the information to her. She even recalled his visits week to week, yet did not realize it happened to be in this unusual setting. Her condition was painless, really, and his visits were ones she felt she depended on in order to keep going. Now, as Sarah lay awake in the hospital bed, she longed to see her father to match his memorable voice with a face.

Sarah’s father lay in the room two floors down. He was now receiving chemotherapy for reasons he could not comprehend. He knew the cancer was weighing on his heart far too much to be prevented. He was even too weak to visit his daughter…that thought alone took his vigor away. Finally, the message was carried from nurse to nurse, concluding with him that his daughter would come visit him as soon as she was able; as soon as her muscles regained their strength and her body could handle the trip. As night time fell each day preceding her visit, both Sarah and her father fell asleep to the lullaby playing in their mind…”I’ll be here for you, just lay your troubles on me…”—the one song Sarah continuously dreamt about for those ten years of sleep.
Thursday came and went and Sarah was determined to see her father. A gut feeling rushed through her body telling her she had to force herself up. Slowly, carefully, she clutched the edge of the bed and lowered her frail legs to the ground. Grasping onto the wheelchair, Sarah slid into the seat and quietly rolled out of the room. An unswerving, undeniable smile shot across her face as she sped for the room holding her father. The night held a strange feeling as if waiting till morning was waiting too long. Feeling confident and body strong, Sarah regained her strength. Physically or emotionally she could not tell, yet a burning desire for her destination encouraged her to continue.
Room 104 stared back at her as a sudden fear crept into her spine. Shaking, Sarah pushed forward the door concentrating on the frail body resting in the bed identical to hers. Quietly, she rolled beside her father trying to hold back surprised emotion that was seeping through her eyes. His peaceful breathing matched nothing with his appearance, but Sarah relaxed as she listened to him sleep. She slid her hand underneath his and gently grasped it until her fathers eyes weakly opened. He slowly, faintly, turned and gazed at her—matching the emotion in her eyes. Thoughts went wild of the past years and the days, if any, to come. Her father knew that he would no longer be able to sing to her…she knew there was not much strength left in his body to care for his daughter as he had for those ten years. Sarah felt his plea and with her knowing smile, let him know that it was now her turn to care for him. Sarah leaned in and kissed her father‘s tear from his cheek and sang him to sleep the soft melody he had imprinted into her heart and memory: “Lay your troubles on me…I’ll carry them forever. Lay your troubles on me…”

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