Again, I write this column from Fair Haven, N.Y., the village on the bay where my parents now live. It’s difficult to focus on anything other than what’s happening right here, right now. My father is dying. No one, including all the doctors Dad has seen over the years, knows how much longer he’ll be with us.

“Only God knows,” said Matthew, the hospice pastor, when we talked most recently. “And he’s not telling.” I, for one, am glad we don’t know. And in not knowing, my mother and I manage to be calm and restful, rather than anxious and afraid, as we go about the daily routine of taking care of Dad and each other.

Although the morning was dreary, their home, “Bayside,” is filled with music and light. The breakfast dishes have been washed, the floors swept and laundry folded.

Earlier I cooked oatmeal, laced it with Maine maple syrup and offered it to my dad. We’re encouraged that he ate every bite.

While he ate, a gray heron swooped gracefully, landing just out of Dad’s field of vision. The gangly bird poked around in the wet poplar leaves accumulated by the shore, looking for some tasty breakfast tidbit.

Loving care

At midmorning, Mom ran an errand, the first time she has left my father’s side in days. She spent the better part of this day’s early hours attending to Dad’s needs. He rests in the hospital bed brought by hospice, as shiny and clean as a new penny. As I watched Mom go about the morning routine, I saw a perfect picture of selfless servitude, as well as a beautiful example of God’s love.

It’s not the first time I’ve seen her care for the sick. She has nursed friends and relatives ever since I can remember and, as I watch her lean over her husband of 50 years to trim his mustache, I realize that caring for all those people, her own parents included, has prepared her for these days.

It’s a blessing that Dad’s mind is clear and that he rests comfortably. As he sleeps, aided by the painkiller that his doctor prescribed, I remember how hard he worked his whole life, how he could do anything and everything. Now it’s time for him to take his ease.

When he’s awake, he gives me advice about my old cast-iron septic tank, reminds Mom where the papers are for the new washer and dryer, and tells me where the key is for the storage shed. Always one to laugh, joke and tell tall tales, his mind now has turned to more practical matters. From his bed with the view of the bay, he’s making sure we are taken care of.

‘This good day’

Later in the day as the sun breaks out from behind lightening clouds, two swans float majestically across the water, followed by several Canada geese. Towards sunset, Dad’s sharp eyes pick out a lone muskrat that’s out for an evening swim. Mom and I would have missed all this if Dad hadn’t called our attention to it.

“If it’s warm enough tomorrow,” Dad says to me, “I want you to help me get dressed and get in the wheelchair so I can go outside.” Mom and I are amazed at this statement since Dad hasn’t been out of bed in days. Of course, we’ll comply with his wishes if he’s up to it. I find myself hoping that tomorrow will be fine so he can breathe the autumn air and feel the mellow sun on his skin.

As darkness settles on our little corner of the world here in Fair Haven, I know I’ve spent this day well. This good day was punctuated with a morning visit from relatives, a few phone calls and little chores. Although I have a knitting project to work on, I found it was often in my lap unattended, as I sat quietly letting myself just be. This, I realize, is what it means to live minute by minute, and it really is okay.

While preparing supper, I think of how my dad, born and raised in North Dakota, used to be a cowboy. I grew up on the stories of how he worked on ranches, broke wild horses and performed in rodeos. Now, against his will, he rides a bucking bronco known as cancer.

I want to believe that on the day God has appointed, there will be a moment between here and heaven when Dad trades this wild ride for a favorite sorrel gelding he called Diamond. I picture my father, young and strong once again, settling into the saddle and tipping his hat as he grins one last time before taking up the reins and turning west to make that final journey into the sunset.

Karen Carlton is a freelance writer living in West Bath, who is a regular contributor to this column. She can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]

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