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The Last Lesson He’d Teach Me Before He Died

We’d entered hospice and every day I waited with bated breath to see if he’d feel okay to sit outside, to sit up and nibble a chocolate chip cookie, or wave to our daughter from the dining room turned hospital room.

Waiting for someone to die is like swimming laps in honey. Every ounce of energy is exerted into long strides to a finish line you can’t see. Each stroke is made with an urgency and quickness but you’re in the exact same place. You feel it. You know it. Yet, the energy around you is thick, cold and scary. You’re on edge waiting for “it” to jump out at you if you let your guard down- so you don’t.

“Babe,” I heard from the other room and quickly made my way to the blue recliner draped in blankets and surrounded by pill bottles.

“I want Taco Bell,” he said.

“Okay, I can send your mom or I can run,” I answer back as I look for my shoes.

“No, I want to go for a drive. Let’s go,” he said back.

The air left my lungs as I  turned to see his thin frame stand up and throw his pain pump over his shoulder.

He groaned in pain as he ducked in the car and I jumped behind the steering wheel. How do you take someone who is dying to Taco Bell? Of all the places? Of all the times? What if “it” happens right this very second and I’m alone, with tacos?

Not a bad way to go now that I reflect.

My heart beamed as I looked over and saw his face next to me. The face I fell in love with and that has driven me many times through late night drive-thru runs and let me sleep on his shoulder. Those shoulders are narrow now but I’d nuzzle into every breath if I could.

“Honey, I want to teach you something. If it’s the last thing I ever can make sure you know before I’m gone. I need to know I tried,” he said a bit winded as this was his first voyage out into the world in several days.

This. This is why he’d asked me to go on this drive, I was certain. Unfinished business, unfinished requests as we creeped closer to the end.

“Oh, Joe. Yes, what. Anything. You’ve already taught me so much and I know how much you love us. I know, don’t worry,” I said back as tears blurred the road.

“No, this is important.” he said.

I waited.

He took a deep breath and said, “You’ve got to learn not to slam on your God damned brakes every time you stop the car.”

I was shocked.

“That’s your final lesson to me?!?” I spat back.

“Yes, I cannot leave this earth with your terrible driving. Now try and get us all the way to Taco Bell without my body moving here in the passenger seat. Just a light foot, lightly on the break. I know you can do it,” he said with a grin.

“Jesus, Joe. You’re an asshole. This is what you want to talk about right now?!”

I broke into a fit of laughter and sweat as I drove that 14 minute drive to Taco Bell. Holding my breath with precision as I tried to gracefully ease into the brake. Apparently this was a new skill, I was unaware I had never mastered. I took deep, steady breaths and focused at each light and turn all while shaking my head in disbelief at this crazy man.

That was the last time I ever drove Joe anywhere. The last time he’d comment on my slamming breaks. The last date we ever went on.

Of course, there are lots of lessons I’d learn in the coming days and weeks and months ahead but God damnit- that’s probably my favorite. And I vow to never stop slamming on my brakes and every time I do I will always wink at the sky.

Some people you just can’t break.


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