“Yes,” said my mother. “He does.” She took a shallow breath and then, “Why did this happen?” Mother stared at Daddy and I patted him on the shoulder, which seemed to make me feel like I was doing something helpful.
“Would you like to go ahead and take his jewelry with you?” asked the nurse.
His wedding ring and class ring (University of Mississippi, Sigma Nu, 1948) came off fairly easily, but the watch was harder. His hands had always been big—something I inherited from him, along with his sensitive skin and his tendency toward impatience—and it seemed his hands and wrists had doubled in size since he’d been in the hospital. Watching the nurse struggle became too painful. “Greedy daughters take jewelry off dead father. Film at eleven.” In reality, we were simply clawing for any piece of Daddy that we might keep, anything that might outlast death.
“I’ll get that off for you later,” said the nurse.
Mother cradled his wedding band in her palm, and I slipped the class ring on the thumb of my right hand. It was too big, even for my pudgy fingers, but I wasn’t about to let go.
“Sometimes I like to pray with the family,” said the nurse. “Is that all right with you?”
Who knows how each of us prayed silently as the nurse spoke, her voice soft and clear and sure as she asked for the emotional healing of my family. Her short hair and wire-rimmed glasses gave off a certain air of efficiency, but it was not just about the job for this woman. It was about us, too, the ones left behind. The ones she could still help.
As for me, I thanked God for giving me such a fabulous father. And then I bawled like a baby.