The hospital is a cold and eerie place. The unusual buzz of a breathing machine rings in my ear. Doctors rush in. They are too late. Another life is lost. Nurses try to mask the smell of death with antiseptics. It doesn’t work.
My dad had been fighting ALS for two years. We knew the end was coming. In the beginning, he was able to walk and talk but then every few months something would change. More muscles would die and he would lose something else that we all had taken for granted.
When I went to bed one November night, he had a cold. When I woke up, he couldn’t breathe. My mom called the ambulance at 11 p.m. and it seemed to take forever to get there. I stayed home with my aunt when they took him because my mom wanted me to go to school the next day. I wanted to crawl in a hole and never come out again.
The next few weeks were a blur. My mom stayed at the hospital so I never knew who would be home with me. My dad was doing really well and then his lung collapsed. They had to insert tubes and they said he would never talk again.
On December 10, my dad returned home. He did not like how he was existing, said it wasn’t living. Not being able to walk, move, or talk upset him. I could hear my mom talking to him late into the night. I could never hear what she said but it doesn’t take long for a kid to figure things out. When they started making arrangements, I knew the end was near, but it was coming sooner than I thought. He said he wanted to hold on until her birthday on January 8. Everyone started saying their good-byes. It lasted almost a month. Every day I told him how much I loved him.
The morning of January 9 I awoke to the sound of the machine that helped him to breathe comfortably. My mom told me to go say good-bye. I was heartbroken. How do you say good-bye to your hero? I still don’t have that figured out. I wondered why this happened. I was only 14. He was my strength. I didn’t know what to expect when he was gone.
I walked into the room and we both started crying. I sat there for a minute wondering what to say. He “spoke” first. I had gotten pretty good at lip reading. He said he loved me and told me he was really proud of me. Other family members started arriving and I knew it was time.
At 7:22 p.m. he took his last breath. I sat on my parents’ bed and watched. The breathing machine went off into a steady, ear-piercing buzz.
I will never understand why this happened but I do know it changed my life. My hero, the one I ran to, was gone. Luckily, my mom and I were strong. Even though she couldn’t replace my dad, she has been there for me. I now know the importance of telling people you love them. I can’t imagine the guilt I would feel if I hadn’t had the opportunity to say good-bye.
I hope that with this piece I have reached just one person. If you are mad at someone, get over it. Tell them you love them because although they are here now, they might not be tomorrow.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.