Meditation from a hospital room

My father's roommate at the veterans’ home is dying. I've known since yesterday, when an assembly of family suddenly appeared, filling his half of the room. My father has known for about a week, when he heard the tell-tale moaning rumble of the old man's breathing when at rest, the signal he has come to recognize—having outlived a half dozen roommates at this point—as a sign that an unseen threshold has been crossed.

"You don't have much time left now, Brother," my father had said to the man. The nurses swatted his arm and rolled their eyes at the absurdity of his prediction. After all, his roommate still got up and about to enjoy outings and socialize in the common room. My father could only shrug his shoulders. What could he say?

"You can hear death coming before you can see it," he tells me.

Meanwhile, on our side of the curtain, Naked and Afraid is playing on the television. I take note of the man who has fashioned what can best be described as not a loin cloth but a loin log around his waist. Surely a maple leaf could have done the job, but my father suggests the man wants to get a few dates once the show is over. We are laughing to the point of tears, and I notice that our laughs are identical, some kind of shared genetic quirk, perhaps, that makes me feel closer to him. We hear the hospice nurse on the other side of the cloth, urging the dying man to eat a few bites of ice cream.

"Just leave him alone," my father says in a voice loud enough for the family to hear. I feel my face flush, and I urge him to whisper.

"People only listen closer when you whisper, Munchkin."

Back at my mother's house, in the silence of these late hours, I am whispering in the dark, hoping that everything I need to say can be heard, that the next time I pull the curtain to my father's room, I am met with that familiar laughter for one more day.

This old house

One of the perks of owning an old home is having its long and possibly storied history at your disposal. I'm fond of stories, particularly as they relate to tangible things, and I was eager to unearth everything—interesting or not—about our 1926 house. My husband shared my interest in our house's history, so he joined me in the Northwest Room of the local library one morning to conduct some research. (So many years into a relationship, this counts as a date.)

Though we didn't find any photos, we did discover that the original owner Robert Fuller was a carpenter who had built the house himself for his father and three sisters. Back at home, I spent the rest of the afternoon running my hands along all of the original features of the house, silently thanking Mr. Fuller for taking such care in the craftsmanship of his home. Later, of course (of course), my thoughts turned more morbid.

"Do you think anyone died here," I wondered aloud as Chad and I sat on the couch together after the kids had gone to bed. He gave me a look that I have come to recognize as a nonverbal What's wrong with you? before he opened his mouth and actually said, "What's wrong with you?" It seemed a reasonable question to me. In all these years, someone surely must have died in our home. Names disappeared one by one in the city directory: the builder, his Civil War veteran father, two of his three spinster sisters. They had to have gone somewhere, after all, and I'm pretty sure it wasn't to Vegas.

Chad's discomfort with this idea perplexes me. I, for one, wish the house were haunted. Some nights, I'm almost certain it is. I often hear footsteps in the downstairs hallway, close to the wall where our family photos are displayed. There's a Civil War photo there, one of Chad's ancestors in his Union Army uniform. I like to think those footsteps belong to the builder's father stopping by to have a look. Perhaps they were prisoners of war together or had otherwise met face-to-face while living. Perhaps even in death he might wonder at how small the world is to have brought them both to this far-flung place. Most likely it's my imagination. But I do love a story. And I love the idea of our lives intersecting—decades after our death—through people who have the imagination to connect us. Somehow I feel less lonely this way.