Pictures at an Exhibition

November 9, 2016

My father took his last breath at 8:35pm.

I was pulling into the parking lot of the hospital, when the attending called and said she pronounced him.  Instantaneously, I went numb and on auto pilot.  I parked the car and walked inside the hospital and up the elevator, just like I’d been doing for the previous weeks, every single day.

The elevator doors beeped and opened and it was like you see in the movies.  I was frozen.  I couldn’t move.  My feet would not move.  The doors closed.  I pushed the button again and stepped out.

The hospice floor was so quiet, a mouse would have been heard.  Usually, hospitals are the noisiest places of them all but not this floor.  As soon as I started to walk down the hall, my hospice “angel began to walk towards me. From that moment on, everything was in slow motion.

She hugged me tightly as she’s been by my father’s side for days and gave me updates whenever I asked and even when I didn’t.  She did everything I asked to be done for my dad.  Make sure classical music is playing on the cd player.  Put the player close to his ear so he can hear.  Don’t change the volume.  My dad always said, “Classical music is not meant to be loud.”  She did everything I asked.  She was my angel.

I gently pulled away from her comforting hug and asked if I could go in.  She took my hand and walked me into the room.  The room I spent endless hours in, sitting next to my dad, talking his ears off or napping with him.  Every time I would come into visit, I would take out my phone and put it near my dad’s head.  I would hit play and it would begin. Our concerto.  Our special musical bond.

Cue trumpets.


“Pictures at an Exhibition” begun and we would listen to the entire concerto.  Quietly, so it wouldn’t hurt his ears and remember, my dad said classical music is not to be played loudly.

When I was about 10 or 11, my dad took me to see an orchestra. I do not know who we saw, but it was amazing.  It was “Pictures at an Exhibition,” by Mussorgsky.  As time passed, I would lay on the floor, in the living room, very close to my dad’s huge speakers, with the record album,  humming along to the music. 

I did the same with the Latin opera, “Carmina Barona.” I’d lay on the floor and song along to the words on the record album. “Ooooooh fortuuuuuna….”  It really felt like I was singing the correct words.  It entertained my dad, so I didn’t care if my Latin singing sounded like a duck gargling in the sand.

Our musical connection will always be “Pictures at an Exhibition.”  (the music on my tattoo is the first bar of the concerto.)

When I walked into the room, it wasn’t like we see in movies.  There wasn’t a bright light beaming down from the ceiling, no stars falling outside his window,   and no music in the background.  The room wasn’t freezing cold or sweltering hot,   and there were no angels singing in the far distance.

My father was white, yes, but here’s the thing.  His face didn’t look distressed with a wrinkled forehead and his mouth wasn’t hanging open so he could breathe since his nose was always stuffed up.  He just looked peaceful.

I took his cold but very soft hand and at first I didn’t know if I could do this.  When a Jewish person dies, you say the Hebrew prayer, the Sh’ma. My sister said to make sure I say it in his ear.  I was afraid.  I’m not sure of what, but I did it.  I very gently leaned over to his ear, worried that I might hurt him.

“Sh’ma yisrael, adonai elohanu, adonai echud…”  I whispered I loved him and said goodnight.

I had to sign a paper and that was it.  That was all there was.  Just like that.  No rewind, no do-over, no edit…it was just over.  And…scene…

And, then I went upstairs to the ICU Isolation unit, where my mother had been for a month.

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