My father's maternal Grandparents, Zillah Bosworth Camp and Arthur Camp, with their children, Mary, Reuben, Zillah, Joseph, Catherine and Thomas. His mother, Mary Elizabeth Camp Simmons is on the upper left.
My father died of cancer 10 years ago today. Posted here is an excerpt from my journal dated May 5, 1998:
My father died April 28th at 8:15 am. A Tuesday. I had been with him in RI on Saturday. Cared for him through the night along with (my sister) Amy. Every four hours we had to roll him over, uncover him and give him his suppositories. I saw my naked father. He had lost over 50 pounds. He was like a child; helpless, vulnerable, dependent. His body looked pale, thin, frail.
We were angels by his bedside. His daughters. Earlier in the evening Debby (my sister) was there. She and I sang to him. Sang every song we could remember that he'd taught to us. All the old barbershop tunes, all the lullabies.
When you wore a tulip, a sweet yellow tulip...
I want a girl, just like the girl that married dear old Dad!
Let me call you Sweetheart, I'm in love with you...
Sweet and Low, Sweet and Low, wind of the western sea,
Blow, blow, breathe and blow, wind of the western sea.
He winked at us every so often, and squeezed our hands. He had stopped speaking by then. To think that I would never hear his voice again filled me with the most tremendous sorrow.
Amy sat on the couch and sobbed, unable to join us in song. Mom sat with her arms around Amy, comforting her, singing softly with us. Aunt Carolyn was there and sang with us, too.
Angels around his bedside.
Stroking his thin white hair,
stroking his sunken face,
holding his hands,
massaging his feet.
Easing him through his passage,
Midwives attending a hard labor.
The next morning as the hospice nurse hooked him up to the morphine pump (he'd stopped swallowing in the night) I laid my head next to his on the pillow and sang softly in his ear. I sang Tell me the Stories of Jesus, I'd love to hear...
I could see his mouth moving ever so slightly - he was singing along.
I told him God loved him. I told him I'd miss him and that it was OK to go. I told him that we were all praying for safe passage, safe passage. The day before he had asked me, Where am I going? I told him that I believed it was a nice place - that he'd see his parents again, and his grandparents, and G.G. and Grampa Howie and Uncle John. When I said Uncle John, he squeezed my hand. I told him I believed that we would all be along in the blink of on eye, that it would seem that quick from the other side.
On Tuesday after I spoke to my Mom, after Dad died, I went out on my deck back in Maine and looked up. It was a beautiful day with a high blue sky, bright with light clouds. I felt glad Dad died on such a day. I called upwards, Great job, Dad! Way to go! I waved and laughed and cried. I gave two thumbs up! I sat and searched the sky and imagined him soaring rapidly through that blue. I felt such relief and joy and sadness all at once.
The next day I went outside again. Another beautiful day. Again I looked up at the sky, this time silently thinking of Dad. I heard a LOUD hammering from the woods to my right. Seconds later a pileated woodpecker flew forth across my field of vision. He was black and white and long, with that bright red thatch of feathers on his head. He flew right past me, straight and strong. Dad was 6 ft 1, dark and slender, always tapping out a tune, always wearing some sort of conspicuous hat. I called out, Hello! and waved to him.
It was Dad. I know this.
Joyful, strong, tapping out a loud beat -
Flamboyant, Flying, Exuberant, Dad.
and I'm fine.