After the meeting, three of us women went upstairs to visit an old guy from the program who is not well.
Bernie is a great guy. He has brain cancer. It's terminal. It's been bad for a while now. I think they keep him pretty heavily sedated so he doesn't try to move around too much and injure himself. But he was alert when we got there. Some of his adult kids were there, sort of milling and foot-shifting and not knowing quite what to do. They seemed stunned by the sheer number of people who are streaming into their father's room, expressing their love and moving on. The were kind enough and generous enough to step out for a few minutes so we could each have a moment with Bernie. They cautioned us that he really couldn't talk, and that he was very sleepy and seemed to not always recognize people.
My friend C was the first to go to him. She got close to his face so he could see, took his hand and spoke his name. His eyes opened and there was a familiar spark. The corners of his mouth turned up just the slightest bit. He knew her. They shared a few moments and then I took a turn at his bedside. I was thrilled to see the recognition in his eyes.
"I love you Dawn," he said.
I nearly fell over.
I held his hand and kissed his forehead.
Daring not to linger, I passed my turn off to M, the member of our small troupe with the shortest amount of sobriety. She remembers Bernie some, but he has sort of fallen off the radar for the past few months as his health has steadily declined. His eyes sparkled, though. M is pretty. And Bernie, well, let's just say he has always had a way with pretty girls. Always respectful and sweet, that respectfulness and sweetness got him more attention and affection than any strutting lewdness by younger, cockier men. M leaned over and kissed my aging friend, and he positively beamed through his gray grizzles of a beard.
He might be terminally ill, but he is neither dead nor stupid. Have I mentioned that I adore Bernie? Yeah. He's my bud.
M and C went out in the hall to talk with the family members, and somehow I ended up back at Bernie's bedside. I held his hand and his grip was strong. His eyes found mine and sparkled. He couldn't really talk much, so I talked to him instead. I talked about how we always seemed to meet of a workday lunchtime at the local really bad Chinese restaurant and how we always were glad to share a table and conversation. I talked about how I used to love talking with him about this engineering disaster or the other (he is an electrical engineer), how people built towers in the dumbest places imaginable, and how summer people really have no business trying to fix their own homes. We talked about contractors who cut corners, and ones that did things right, and we solved many a construction dilemma over plates of shrimp with lobster sauce (his) and Szechuan chicken (mine).
I told him he needed to get a prettier nurse (the nurse on at the time was a man) and his eyes blinked his agreement.
I told him that he had some fine children and that they seemed to care for him a great deal. I told him that he'd done good, and he blinked his appreciation. It was the long, slow blink of a man who has spent a long time wanting to reconcile with his kids after drinking for so many years. Bernie's been sober a long time now, but when kids are young and Dad's an alcoholic, well, some wounds take a very long time to heal. For his kids to be there means an awful lot to him. It also probably tells him that he is nearing the end of his time in this world. Especially if they're all there, even at 9 p.m., and the nurse was making arrangements for reclining chairs so they could spend the night by his side.
I bent low and told him that I had to go and that he should probably rest some and spend some time with his kids. He squeezed my hand one more time while I kissed him and told him that I loved him, and as I let go his hand, his gaze shifted to his children in the room.
What a gift that was. To see Bernie one more time. I was afraid I was going to come back to meetings after this campaign and learn of his funeral some two weeks previous.
What a blessing it was to have him recognize me and speak to me. To share some warm memories. Wow.
My heart is at once full and hollow.
Blessed be Bernie. May your journey be gentle, however long it takes.