Harry sat there in the back bedroom of their house in Luverne, Alabama. The one they had moved to the day after he had retired as a machinist in Tonawanda, New York. The one my grandmother had reluctantly followed him to despite it meaning leaving her grandchildren behind – what else could she do?? I vividly remember him counting down his last days at work, and then loading up their pickup truck and heading out to Alabama the very next morning. Almost 20 years later, his main occupation now was playing the role of scary pirate to my 3-year-old niece, Kennedy.
Harry wore an eye patch and weighed about 100 pounds at that point. He had cut off the end of his belt and poked new holes in it so his pants would stay up. His glass eye sat on the dresser alongside photos of me and my sister and our cousins, the 1976 bicentennial horse decanter they had had for what seemed like my entire life, an assortment of glass bowls and knicknacks, and the glass of YooHoo he was sort of drinking. My sister and I had gone to the Piggly Wiggly to get him the YooHoo after he lit up at the mention of it. He had trouble eating or drinking anything these days and we were sure a YooHoo would make it past those lips.
This wasn't one of the old days of YooHoo and swimming at Point A though. This wasn't a summer vacation far away from my parents. It wasn't 115 degrees. And we weren't going to drive 2.5 hours to Destin for lunch and water slides. It was November 2007.
This was the day when the hospice nurse was visiting and making preparations to bring in a hospital bed for his final days. This was my mom's 57th birthday. This was the day after my grandmother's 80th birthday. This was bittersweet reunions with Harry's siblings – and hearing 3-year-old Kennedy squeal when they arrived, “They're here! Boy are they gonna be happy to see me!!!” – and she was right.
This was the day I was heading back to Kingston to begin my new life as Harry's was ending. This was me staring at the face of pancreatic cancer – knowing I was losing the man who had always, always been there with a kind word. Losing the man who was the only one who told me he trusted me and KNEW I had done the right thing by leaving my husband. The man who always told me I was doing the right thing. Always.
As I hugged him goodbye he whispered into my ear, ”You sure done a great job with those boys. I'm sure proud of you. Y'all keep talking to each other and you'll be okay. You just gotta keep on communicating.” I then began to tell him how grateful I was for everything, the music lessons, the way he had always supported me – he cut me off abruptly and told me, "Get out of here." The suddenness took me by surprise, but when I looked up I saw he was crying. Neither of us had anticipated how difficult it would be to say goodbye.
Later this week my new Michael was moving in. We'd been away from each other for 2 weeks and it felt like forever. I never wanted to stay in a place so much while also feeling desperate to dash away at the first possible opportunity.