The bag was light considering it held the contents of my father’s entire life. His being, his memories - well, those were light. But his essence, his education, his travels, his love. How could everything fit into one bag, and a small one at that?
“Don’t forget his glasses,” I said to my mother. He had been without them for two weeks at the hospital. It didn’t seem to matter to him. The glasses were more for us. He’d always worn them. Seeing his naked face, ashen and splotchy, with gray whiskers on his jawline was like looking at a water- damaged photograph.
She nodded and rolled another pair of socks. All of his clothes had labels, the same type I put on my boys’ clothes for sleep away camp. Dad was going away too but without the happy chatter of friends, sports, and campfires. Camp hospice I tried to joke with myself. An endless dream of comfort and ice cream, his favorite food when he ate at all.
“Do you think he’ll need those new shoes I bought?” My mother said.
She had spent weeks looking for black sneakeresque shoes with Velcro fasteners that fit his wide feet. She had a collection of failures from online sites and specialty orthopedic stores now stacked like bricks waiting to be returned.
I shrugged. “Everyone wears socks with those grippy, rubber nubs on the bottom. He’s not walking much anymore.”
She didn’t so much as bow her head in reply, more of her body folding in on herself.
I looked around the house. “What else should we pack?” More, I wanted to pack more. He was an ordered person and the suitcase splayed open on the guest room bed was military tight. We had no packing checklist, no guidelines. We packed smiling family photos labeled with everyone’s name, seven days-worth of clothes, a warm, soft bathrobe, slippers, toiletries, and a few books. We didn’t know if he could read, but books had been his passion. He’d seek out independent book stores, college book stores, any place where he could find something different. He had a particular way of browsing through the aisles. He would hold the book, spine resting in his hand as if it were an infant’s head. He would rock on his heels as he gently turned the pages. If he wanted the book, he would close it with a snap releasing a puff of air and tuck it under his arm. If not, it would be slid back into place.
Were we sliding him back into place? No longer wanted by the world. His memories where gone. Did that mean he was used up? His body was failing. Did that mean he no longer mattered? It seemed all that mattered were the problems not the person. Incontinence, dysphagia, and psychomotor agitation like the three Greek fates. They pass the eye of Alzheimer’s disease spinning a progression of symptoms waiting to cut the final thread.
“Let’s go.” I lift the one bag of my father’s life. Its featherweight is crushing. But I will carry the bag, and his life, to the end.
Sharon Wishnow is the owner and creative director of Home Row Editorial, a content development company in Northern Virginia. When she's not driving her children to dance lessons, she spends her free time writing. She has an MFA from George Mason University.