a BLT and the will to live

At the risk of bringing down the Sandwich Party with a sobering tale, I want to tell you the story of my father’s last BLT. It’s a story I promised long ago, and though it’s a tearjerker, it’s also full of love and joy. I promise.

It was mid-September. My father had been released from the hospital into home hospice care. That is to say, he came home to die, as gently and comfortably as possible. With a vague grimacing smile and a faint, persistent nod, he settled into his bed, curled his fragile body away from the room, closed his eyes, and got busy dying.

It seemed clear that he would die soon, without ever regaining his grin, his humor, his appetite for jokes and stories and family and food, without ever coming back to us.

Until the night of the BLT.

note: Oh, I can’t write it. What you see here is mostly cobbled together from an email to Elli, my oldest friend, and an email to Sgazzetti, my brother.

We are all pretty exhausted.

Around midnight tonight, Dad exhibited some theoretical interest in food, but no actual interest. […] Then he asked about dinner tomorrow. He asked if we could have BLTs tomorrow. Oh, I think we COULD. I offered to hop up and make one right away, but no no no he didn’t want that, just maybe tomorrow.

He asked whether, if he could manage to eat, his hospice aide could serve him something in the night. I listed the plates I had prepared: fish chowder, proudly made by [brother B]; chili; Mom’s justly famous meatloaf and my somewhat less famous but still very good mashed potatoes; a plate of salmon and asparagus; a tray of ginger cookies with lemon cream; a peanut butter sandwich.

None of those appealed, and he said, “Oh, well,” and turned over. Time to get back to business, the business of dying.

“Would you like a BLT?” I asked, half-rising from my seat, but not letting go of his hand. Not yet.

Then our tiny, whispering, weak Dad opened his eyes, cocked his head, and said, “Oh, yeeeeeeah.”

So to your image of me and [brother B] seeking fish chowder at 10 a.m., and me standing in line at the diner counter and bursting into tears over an egg sandwich, you can add the image of me in my jammies frying bacon and laughing and crying at 12:02 a.m.

He ate that BLT, too, or half of it. Okay, half of the half-sandwich I made, but it’s more than I expected him to eat, and he relished it, which is all that counts.

[To Elli, I wrote: “… that is, a quarter of a sandwich, and you can imagine how it pains me to view that as a triumph.’ But in these moments, you take the tiniest victories as they come, and are grateful for them. I’m still grateful for this one.]

love to you and all of yours

Dad lived almost three months after that night. And when I say “he lived,” I mean he lived. He told stories and off-color jokes, we talked about love and life and death, he hugged and kissed his wife and children and grandchildren, he saw old friends and wrote letters and emails. He had many glasses of wine, many doughnuts and egg sandwiches, many perfectly plated dinners of salmon or pasta or omelets, many many tiny ice cream sandwiches.

He had good days and bad days, but he did more than just survive those days: he lived.

As far as I know, that was his last BLT. I’m proud to have made it.

4 thoughts on “a BLT and the will to live

  1. Thanks, Jane. It really was a beautiful moment.
    There’s more (and less) to it, of course, but to me it seemed almost like fairy-tale magic, in that long-distant midnight.

  2. What a gorgeous and sad story. I think it’s a lovely thought, that there is beauty in the sadness, and joy in the pain. It’s so nice you had some special moments with him before the end.

  3. I can just see his smile through closed eyes, breathing “oh, yeaaahhhhh” and curling with pleasure like a skinny little cat. And yes, he certainly did pack a lot of living into the next three months, and taught the rest of us how to do it, too. Godspeed, Dad. Smile on our celebrations, and bless us on our way.

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