On this day, I can’t help but think back upon the moment I experienced that I knew would be one of my fondest memories. I was lucky enough to realize how precious that moment was . . . and greedy enough to wish I could have it just once more.
Early February 2013, I remember sitting in the uncomfortable chair next to my father’s hospital bed in Carson City as he slept.
My father’s days were numbered. He had pancreatic cancer that had spread into his liver. His body was shutting down. In fact, it really was just the morphine that was keeping him going and out of pain.
I surveyed his choice of dinner that the hospital staff had just delivered: cottage cheese and applesauce. I figured it would be a win if he got any of the clumped dairy product into his system.
My mother and sister had headed home for a bit of down time. The schedule of doctor visits, friends dropping in and coping with the impeding end was taking a toll on all of us.
When he jerked awake and looked in my direction with his clear, wide blue eyes that matched mine, all the thoughts that had been fighting to be the first thing I said to him was wiped clear of my mind.
He glanced to the beige tray holding his beige dinner and his face scrunched up. Long gone where the days when he could soak his food in hot sauce, Spanish olives and jalapenos. Now the only “sauce” he could add to spice up the entrée was of the apple variety.
“Want me to find something to watch during dinner?” That was the only words I could think to say. I kicked myself for chickening out as I picked up the remote control.
I flipped the channels, disgusted with myself. All the thoughts, feelings, emotions that I wanted to confess to my father remained on the tip of my tongue. Yet, it was easier for me to push the buttons than open my mouth.
“Have you seen this?” I asked, pausing on the action flick that was just getting underway on one of the movie channels.
“Is that Cruise?” He asked, playing with the cottage cheese.
“Yeah. It’s called ‘Knight and Day’, with Cameron Diaz,” I offered. He shrugged and I put the remote down.
Within moments, my father, captivated by the story on the screen, paused his eating with the spoon between his mouth and the tray.
“Did you see that?” My father asked, using the utensil to point to the screen. I told him I did. But my mind was years away.
Growing up, dinner in our house was always accompanied by a movie. The four of us would load up our plates, grab one of the plastic fold-out dinner trays featuring the seasons and head for the living room. The first one to the living room usually picked the flick of the evening from our limited VHS collection. More often than not, it was James Bond or Indiana Jones. Star Wars was a favourite along with the older Bill Murray comedies.
There were nights when my father would forget his hot sauce, silverware or even his drink. He would move his dinner plate to the couch so he didn’t spill his tray when he got up or came back.
This would set off a chain of actions that we all knew would happen and yet we could never really stop. My father would return from his kitchen errand, in a hurry and eyes fixated on the screen only to sit down on his own dinner. We paused the movie while my father changed his pants, refixed his plate and joined us. This didn’t happen once or twice. It happened often.
As I watched him in the hospital room, eating his cottage cheese and watching ‘Knight & Day’, I knew this was it. This was the moment that would be prized for years to come. These ninety minutes of laughter, scene dissection and shared silence would be my most precious memory: my last dinner and movie with my Pops.
I know how lucky I was to have that moment. But I would give anything to have just one more. One more movie. One more dinner. One more.
He passed away three days later. Today, he would have turned 64.
Happy Birthday, Pops.