The Rain Fell

For Joe Brown, my dad, and one of the greatest men I will ever know.

March 17, 2012 was a beautiful Saturday morning. The day, like many in February, was unseasonably warm, but not uncomfortably so. Unlike many of the days in February, I wasn’t spending a lot of time sitting with my dad on his deck. It seemed especially odd not to be sitting with him, mainly because it had been only ten days since we heard the dreaded words, “There’s nothing else we can do. It’s time to think about making you comfortable.”  Instead of sitting and visiting, I was outside with several friends working on a project that my father-in-law dreamed up. We were all moving a remnants of 78 foot Maple my parents had cut down (the “professionals” idea of cleaning up was putting everything in a couple of piles right by the house). I threw myself into the work, eager to avoid the thoughts spinning in my head and how much Dad had declined in the previous week. Then, something magical happened and that Saturday became a Good Day.

A couple of constants in my life has been that Dad always wanted to “supervise” whatever project I was working on around the house and also that (at least to me) he seemed nearly impossible to completely please. He could be so hard to please that even when I did what he asked, he found something to gripe about.

He spent three and a half years of my high school journey telling me how much I needed a hair cut. Finally, in the last semester of my senior year, I cut my hair. Short.

“Look, Dad, I finally got my hair cut like you wanted.”

He lowered the newspaper slightly and considered my new look. “It’s parted on the right,” he said.

“Yeah, so?”

He flipped the paper back up and explained, “Only Mama’s Boys part their hair on the right.”

Over the years he became somewhat easier to please (especially since I provided grandchildren), but I always found myself looking toward him for approval on just about everything I ever did.

It was no different that Saturday morning. Family had come in to say goodbye and I imagined them inside with Dad probably constantly questioning as to our progress outside. We had moved several loads of wood before the magic started. Not only was Dad sitting up for longer than he had in a while, he came outside. He hadn’t been outside all week. He walked, under his own power, without his oxygen, and sat in a chair on his deck. He watched us intently and became, once again, the man I remembered him to be. Gone was the frail shell and it its place: Dad. True, he was slightly reduced, but he was finally the man I as I thought of him again.

He stayed outside and supervised us most of the morning. He refused to go in as the afternoon came on, even a few rain drops threatened.

“I need to make sure they’re doing a good job,” he said.

We just worked harder. It became fun for all of us. I was out and out laughing for the first time in a while. I started the morning annoyed that I had a task, but grew to be thankful that my father-in-law forced the issue. It was good to be with so many willing to help. It was better to be watched over by one of the greatest men I will ever know.

Everything became a game. We teased my father-in-law as he cut large pieces of the trunk off for us to move. We rallied behind my good friend Jim who desperately wanted to roll a huge section of trunk down the hill. My dad claimed it was too big.

“Just watch us!” we yelled. It totally rolled down the hill, right to where we wanted it.

We were nearing the end and we had a large pile formed at the bottom of the hill in my front yard. My wife had gotten a burn permit just in case, so I decided to try to get that large section of trunk going. There was a hollow space inside it and I stuffed it full of small bits of branches and any other dry wood I could find. A light rain had started by the time a put a few drops of diesel inside on the kindling.

As I lit it, my father-in-law said, “You’ll never get that going.”

Well, I was going to do just that. Dad was watching, and I wanted to show him I could still get things done.

I managed to get the fire going, to which my father-in-law said, “Well, it won’t stay lit.”

“We’ll see,” I said.

I then got back to helping move the last few truck loads of wood. The rain was picking up, so we hurried. I walked up the hill as the rain strengthened and barely made it under my porch when the sky opened up and the rain fell. It was a hard rain, so hard that water began collecting around the section of trunk I determined would burn.

I kept glancing back to that trunk. I reasoned that while the outside might get wet, the inside was somewhat sheltered. Even through the pouring rain, a small tendril of smoke rose from within. There was no longer a fire, but there was still a flame. I willed the flame to remain lit.

I walked back to my parents’ house when the rain finally let up and most of the volunteers had gone. Dad was still it a great mood. Still himself. Still burning brightly. It truly was a Good Day. I’m glad I didn’t know it was the last one.

The next day saw Dad completely different form that good day. He never got out of his bed and we had to put our ears inches from his lips just to make out his words. That Sunday evening, I sat with my wife on our porch. I looked down the hill and saw that, amazingly, a small flame, though weak, still burned in the trunk I set alight the previous day. I thought I should put it out, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

It started the hardest week of my life. Dad continued to worsen. My mornings and nights were spent trying to help Mom care for him. Dad became increasingly uncomfortable. It was a struggle for us to constantly move him between his bed and his chair. On Monday, he noticeably shook when supporting his weight even with us helping. By Tuesday, he couldn’t stand on his own at all. By Thursday, I could barely stand to see what he had become.

It was so difficult, I looked at him Thursday night and said the hardest second hardest words I’ve ever uttered, “Dad, I know you’re worried, but I promise, I promise I’ll take care of Mom. You don’t have to worry about her. I said you’d never go to a nursing home, and here you are at home. I will miss you so much when you’re gone. More than I know how to say. It will hurt. But seeing you like this hurts too. I don’t think this is what you want. Dad, you don’t have to hang on for us. We’ll be so sad, but we’ll make it through. I don’t want to see you suffer.”

He scowled at me for a moment and faintly whispered, “I’m not finished yet!” They were the only words he spoke that week that I didn’t have to be right next to him to hear. They were the last words he ever said to me.

The next day, Friday, I started my day around 4:30 AM when Mom called. I went over and moved Dad from his bed to his chair to his bed to his chair to his bed. I eventually went to work, mainly to conserve as much leave as possible for when I really needed it.

I made it through the day somehow.  After work, at my parents’ house, I was selfishly looking forward to a small respite. My brother came up from Nashville to spend the night with our parents and help out. It meant I could be home. It knew it wasn’t going to be an easy night, because I planned to start work on a memorial video of my Dad. I had already been through the surreal experience of sitting with him as he planned his own funeral, but I kept putting off this task because I didn’t know if I was up too it. The tears were already flowing as I scanned pictures. I would soon learn the night would be much harder than I reckoned.

There was a knock on my door around 6:00 or so. I went to open it an my brother stood there. I was trying to figure out why he didn’t call instead of walking over when he said, “The hospice nurse said it could be tonight.”

“What?” I asked, my hands, my face, suddenly cold.

“He said definitely this weekend, maybe tonight.”

I dropped everything and we went back over. The nurse left and Mom, my brother, and I gathered around Dad’s hospital bed. My brother and I were on his left side, I at his shoulder, with our mom directly across from me. Dad seemed to drift in and out of awareness, his eyes alternately clear and then unfocused. For the first time in decades, I held his hand, even though I wasn’t sure he could feel mine.

In one of the moments of seeming clarity, I asked him, “Dad, do you remember what I told you last night?”

He looked at me for a moment and then shook his head. I swallowed and began, “I said . . .” and repeated everything from the night before. I finished and then the three hardest words I’ve ever spoken slipped through my lips like an icy knife, “Dad . . . let go.”

He peered at me a moment, and then my mom also gave him permission to go. Finally, my brother offered his own words. Dad looked intently at me. His eyes bore through me in a way they never had before. His gaze seemed to hold me for hours. Then he turned and set the same look at my brother. After, he looked over at my mom, his wife of nearly 50 years and looked a little longer. Then he looked back at me, just for a moment, then my brother, then my mom. One last time. He stopped being restless, lay his down, and closed his eyes for the last time.

My brother and I alternated the hours sitting vigil all through the long night. There were several times I thought it was over, but then Dad would draw a deep breath and settle back into a regular rhythm.

The night wore on and morning came on. It was another unseasonably warm day with light rain threatening, but my good humor was absent.  All the physical signs hospice had prepared us for began. My brother’s wife and my wife joined us. The five of us sat next to Dad as his body shut down. We knew our time with him was drawing to a close. Just before noon, Dad breathed a few short, gasping breaths. As the grandfather clock he got from his parent’s struck twelve I reached over and felt his neck.

“I think he’s gone,” I said. Then, the rain fell. It pounded down against the house, blotting out the sound of the oxygen machine, our tears, and the entire world. Miles away, my wife’s sister leaving a soccer field said, “It’s Joe.”

We sat there, knowing life was irrevocably changed, knowing nothing would ever be the same again.The sound of the oxygen machine was too much so I turned it off. Then the silence was too much.

We said our goodbyes. We called the hospice nurse. He came and made all the other calls.  The funeral home came (actually one of the owners – a former student of Dad’s) came. We made calls. We finalized arrangements. We grieved. We felt lost.

When it was all done, I walked back home. As I neared my porch, I couldn’t help but look down the hill. I looked down at the section of trunk. The flame that a week ago seemed impervious to rain was no more. It was extinguished. I fell to my knees and, even though the sky was clear, the rain fell, harder than it ever had before.

© Leighton Brown and Stories Now Told, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from Leighton Brown is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Leighton Brown and Stories Now Told with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. For more information, please see the Copyright page.

About leighton

I could be considered a true Renaissance Man after having a long and storied (seriously, people actually tell stories about it) college experience and varied careers. I am also a shameless self-promoter (who did you think was writing this anyway?) who is prone to flights of fancy, an abundance of passion on any given subject, ,obsessive behavior, spontaneous storytelling (whether anyone listens or not), and making parenthetical references. I would also be thrilled if I heard someone use the word "raconteur" to describe me.
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9 Responses to The Rain Fell

  1. Mom says:

    Each moment we had was special, even as our bodies exhausted too. He left in the peace of his loved ones. We and he had done all we could.

  2. Diana MCARTHUR says:

    Amazingstory. Thank you. Diana McArthur Clarksville, TN


  3. Susan Shepler says:

    What a beautiful way to go! I’m so glad that you all were able to shower your love on him as he made that final transition into his new life.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Louella Chrisman says:
    September 30, 2012
    What a beautiful account of your Dad’s life and passing. May the Lord bless and keep each and every one of you. Love you Barbara!

  5. bvman says:

    Came here from reddit my dad passed on the 16th of March, I haven’t been able to express myself regarding it, I don’t know if I will. Thank you for sharing, it touched my heart in way I have trouble expressing.

  6. Kevin Gadsey says:

    Thank you, Leighton. Stories bring incredible healing power.

    • leighton says:

      Thanks you. Kevin! I did find writing this particular piece to be extremely cathartic. The tears started not long after the first few words were typed. Once done, I remember feeling quite exhausted, but also relieved. Words have great power. I hope I use mine (mostly) wisely.

  7. Pingback: The Tipping Point | Stories Now Told

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