I arrived at the hospital tired but on full adrenalin. I stopped at the nurses’ desk to ask my Dad’s room number and was told he was resting. I quietly entered his room, pulled up a chair and took his hand in mine. When he didn’t wake, I laid my head near his and fell asleep. My dad’s stroking of my hair woke me. I opened my eyes. “Hi Daddy.”
“How are you feeling this Lord’s day morning?”
“Oh I feel as good to be expected for a man dying of terminal cancer.”
“Stupid question, huh Dad?”
“Not at all Max.”
“You’re not leaving this place alive are you?”
“No child, I’m not, and I’m afraid I don’t have much time left.”
“What do you want me to do? I mean do you have any business you want me to take care of?”
“No Max. I’ve taken care of everything. Since I didn’t know if you wanted the house or the land it sits on, I didn’t sell it. I’m leaving it in your hands to do what you want.”
“Thank you Daddy.”
“My lawyer’s name is Butch Fray and he has an office in Downtown Holly Springs. He knows who you are and he knows my wishes. Everything is in writing. Your copy of my wishes is in my bag in the closet.”
“I’m going to miss you Daddy.” She hesitated for a moment before dropping the bomb. “Daddy, there’s a clinic in New Mexico that’s experimenting with new cancer cocktail drugs and they’ve had some success. I can fly you there right now if you’ll agree to go.”
“No Max. I’m tired. I’m tired of the radiation. I’m tired of the chemo. I’m tired of the pills. I’m tired of the pain and the suffering. I want to die Max. I want to die and leave this old disease-ridden body behind. By no means do I want to leave you because I love you Daughter. I pray I’ve given you the tools to make it on your own. And don’t forget, you have great friends to help you through your grief. I’m only sorry I’ll never meet my grandchildren and them me because I would have made a great granddaddy.
Max, I don’t want you spending a lot of time grieving. I want you to get on with your life—no, don’t argue with me. I know how you are. When something sends you into a tailspin you grab hold to it like a fly on shit! I don’t want you spending your time miring in my death. Get on with your life. I want you to promise me you’ll take time off to do something for yourself when I’m gone. I want you to take off and do something fun. Maxie, Sweetheart, I want to be cremated. I left in my wishes to be cremated right after I die. The doctors know. The attorney know.” He paused and took a deep breath. “I don’t want you at the cremation. As soon as the life leaves this old disease-ridden body I want you to leave here and get on with your life. Since we would have already said goodbye, I want you to get about the business of taking care of yourself.”
“We’ll see to that Dad.” Maxie and her dad looked up to see Nadia and Bryan, Lenore and Lelia. Lenore was the voice they had heard. “You know Maxie won’t take care of herself without our help.”
“Hey girls, I’m happy to see you. Who told you I was here?” Morris asked.
“We’re on your emergency call list.” Nadia told him laughing, “And Maxie shot us an email telling us she was heading here from Brussels.”
“Yes, Dad. Don’t you remember me telling you where I was going before I left you? I was facilitating a course on reducing stress by having fun.”
“We brought some food, Dad.” Lelia said redirecting the conversation.
“You did? What did you bring?”
“Homemade corn bread, boiled and fried chittlins, okra stew, and some kale, turnip, spinach, and mustard greens mixed.” They ate until nothing was left. Maxie’s dad had even eaten a small portion. Just before daybreak Morris woke and called them over.
“Nadia, Lelia, and Lenore, I think of you as my daughters though I still miss Jean and wish she was here. You’re like sisters and have done a good job of taking care of one another and Bryan, you’re like a son and you do a good job of taking care of all my girls.
Nadia, Jean, Bryan, and Maxie have been friends since I can remember. Then a little while later, Lelia and Lenore came into your lives. You’re good girls and you do a good job watching over one another. When I die Maxie is going to need you more than ever.” He turned to his daughter and saw her crying. He took hold of Maxie’s hand and held her eyes with his. “I leave my child in all your hands. And when you see that gal Jean, tell her the same thing.” Morris took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Maxie, I love you and I’m sorry to have to leave you this way but it’s something that can’t be changed. Be strong and never walk away from your faith in God. Ask Him to help you. Let Him know how much you need Him and trust Him to get you through.”
“How much time do you have left, Daddy?”
“If I could go now, I would Child. I hope God sees fit to take me soon. I’ve fought to stay alive long enough to say goodbye to you and to let you say goodbye to me. I’m not going to fight to stay alive any longer because I’ve done my do.”
“I love you Daddy and I want to say keep fighting for your life but I’m not going to. You live with pain I can’t begin to imagine and though I don’t want you to leave me, I know it’s not my call.”
“It’s not your call and it’s not my call, Max.”
“I know, Daddy. I know I’m being selfish but I don’t want to be alone in the world.”
“What are you talking about being alone Maxie? You’ll never be alone. Once you decide to come out of your cocoon and start enjoying life, a good man will come into it. The two of you can build a life together with children. He’ll be your friend and your husband. And what about Nadia, Lelia, Lenore, Bryan, and Jean? You’ll always have them.”
“Until they start to die off. Ouch! I can’t believe I said that Dad.”
“You take things too personally Max. People don’t die to inconvenience your life. They die because they’ve fulfilled the work God sent them here to do for Him baby. I’ve taught you that God put us here for Him! Not for me and certainly not for you! Show some respect child. Don’t you know that you’re going to die one day and that’s going to make someone sad? Maxie, my child, I’m going to a place where no one has to put burglar alarms on their cars and homes. I’m going to a place where I can go anywhere I want and don’t have to worry about being held-up by someone trying to rob me of money they think I have. I’m going to a place where there’ll be no people who’ve chosen a career of destroying other people. I’m going to a place where only happiness, laughter, and love exist—a place with no worries. I’m going to a place where there’s only good and no pain, no heartaches or headaches. Do you want to deny me that?” Maxie understood and agreed with everything her dad had said but it still didn’t change the fact she was going to lose him.
“How long do you think you have, Dad?”
“I’m praying not to wake up from my sleep.”
“Am I keeping you here Daddy?”
“I suspect your neediness is.”
“Are you suffering?”
“Yes Max, I am.”
“I don’t want you to suffer any longer Daddy, I’ll miss you.” She kissed him on his sunken cheek. “I love you, Daddy. Go home, Go home to God.”
“I love you too Max now I’m tired and I’m going to sleep.” She sat in the chair next to his bed and threw her arm across him and fell asleep. Waking, he looked down on his sleeping daughter. “I love you Maxie with all my heart and I’m so sorry for all the heartache you’ve had to suffer. I should have been a better daddy but I did the best I could. I’m going to miss you but I know you’re going to be okay because I made sure you know how to and you have good people in your life. I know you’re still sad about your brother but I did everything I knew how to do to protect him. I know you’re going to be okay and I know life is going to get easier for you. Take care of yourself.” He said before drifting back to sleep.
I woke when I didn’t feel the rising and the falling of my Daddy’s chest. He wasn’t breathing. “Nurse! Nurse!” I called. The nurse checked my dad’s vitals. She looked over at me and said, He’s gone Miss. Branson. I’m sorry. I asked Nadia, Lelia, and Lenora not to come with me to Dad’s home because I needed to be alone with my grief. I needed closure. When I got there I was surprised to see the house empty of everything. There wasn’t even a dust ball in sight. My dad had known he wouldn’t be coming home from the hospital. He knew he was dying when I went to Brussels. He didn’t want me to watch him suffer and to protect me, he allowed me to travel thousands of miles so he could get his business in order. While I was being a selfish witch, my daddy was taking care of me. My daddy was taking care of the business of dying so I wouldn’t have to. There was nothing left for me to do but visit his attorney.
Exactly one month to the day we met, I started calling and sending Maxie emails. When she didn’t respond to either, I thought about looking for her. I knew she lived somewhere in Woodlawn but Woodlawn is a good-size community. Though it wouldn’t take more than an hour to drive it, what purpose would that serve? Unless she was standing outside her house I wouldn’t know which one was hers? I decided to give her another week to respond. And what would I do if she didn’t? I pulled out the business card she’d given me and looked at it again and saw the same old things. The name of her company, her telephone numbers, and her email addresses but no street addresses. I typed in the name of her company in the Yahoo search engine and found her business on the first try. I dialed the number listed.
Reducing Stress Through Fun, Gloria speaking.
“Hello Gloria, I’m trying to reach Miss Maxie Branson.”
“She’s not in Sir. May I help you?”
“I’m afraid not. When do you expect her to return?”
“I’m not sure.”
“May I leave a message?”
“Yes you may.”
I gave the elusive Miss Maxie Branson a week to respond and when she didn’t, I decided to give her company another call.