I wasn’t with my father when he died.
He was in a hospital in Bakersfield, California.
I was at my sister’s home in Brush Valley, Pennsylvania.
It was the 5th of May, 1995.
The memories are vague now.
I awoke to my sister standing at the basement bedroom door.
The light was on behind her and it pierced the darkness of our room.
She was crying.
I took the phone from her, and walked out of the bedroom where my wife and children were sleeping.
I remember feeling awkward that I was wearing only my underwear.
It was my mother on the phone.
She said, “He’s gone. Papa’s gone.”
She wasn’t with him either, and she was crying, too.
It was three o’clock in the morning in Pennsylvania, maybe.
Midnight in California.
Mom was in her apartment in Arvin, California, straining to get rest.
Only nurses and maybe a doctor, the night crew of strangers, were with Papa.
Maybe the night janitor was pushing a dust mop across the cold-tile floor in the hallway outside his room.
In some ways, except in his best moments, we were all strangers to him then.
He knew us, when he remembered us, but he was mostly forgetting.
He spoke mostly of his mother in the days before he died.
He spoke to her.
I didn’t know her, but I wish I had.
Her name was . . . well, I can’t remember.
I wish I could remember.
He always spoke her name with such affection.
I remember the affection, but not the name.
Perhaps she was with him when he died.
I wish I had been there.
I wish I could have said goodbye.
I wish I could have looked in his eyes, and held his hand, and said a proper goodbye.
I hope he was not lonely, or afraid.
I didn’t know, then, that I would wish I had been there.