When my mom called on Thursday to tell me that Dad had been moved to a smaller room on a more hospice-like floor of the Veteran's Home building, so that he could receive more frequent oxygen treatments, I felt the old familiar chill of worry creep into my chest, that terrible feeling of helplessness and foreboding. When she said that his hands were cold, I thought, "This at least I can fix."
I spent the next couple hours exploring my yarn bins and Ravelry, trying to find the right combination of soft, warm yarn and quick pattern so that I could have a completed set of fingerless gloves when I visited him on Saturday. I decided that I was going to knit him lots of fingerless gloves, nice ones, historical patterns that he'd appreciate not only for warmth but for their origins as World War II artifacts, but for now I'd stick with a fast, easy pattern in bulky yarn. I had a tiny amount of blue yarn with alpaca that would be perfect trim; alpaca for extra warmth, blue for my dad's favorite color.
I worked on them for the rest of the night, eschewing laundry, dishes, cleaning, and forgetting to eat. When I told my slightly exasperated husband why, he immediately understood. Here was the one small thing I could do for my dad - keep his hands warm.
I went to bed late that night, and late the next, trying to finish them. I had to rip out the end ribbing on both gloves and knit fewer rows, because I ran out of the blue yarn right before the cast off. I finished the gloves but for the ribbing minutes before we were out the door for the long drive to Marshalltown.
I wove in a couple ends while we ate lunch with my brother, but there were still several left when we paid our tabs and headed for the Veteran's Home. I was confident I could finish them up during the course of the visit, and Dad would be able to wear them before we left.
Nothing went as planned.
Afterwards, they told us that it must have been very quick. He couldn't have suffered - he was almost certainly gone before he hit the ground. His heart just gave out, unexpectedly, suddenly, and sometimes these things just happen.
It's cold, cold comfort to the children who found their dad lying on his bathroom floor, to the son who tried vainly to give CPR, to the daughter who ran screaming for the nurses whose station was only a few feet away from his room, then held tight to his icy hand and prayed for him to wake up. Those prayers didn't seem to leave the room.
The chill that settled into my chest when the nurses asked us to step away was familiar, though not the same one from before. This was a chill I had felt while lying in a dark radiology lab, watching the silent screen of the ultrasound and its flat white line.
I felt my heart turn to stone again. My brother fell apart and I envied him the release of tears and oblivion, but I clung to the cold, hard feeling in my chest like a pillar, and it kept me standing. I followed directions, I called my mom and told her what was going on with remarkable coherency, I calmly thanked the nurses when they brought us water and tissues. I took care of my brothers, I made Phillip call his fiancee.
When the nurse told me, "I'm sorry, he's gone." I said, "Okay, okay," and thanked them again. I told Phillip, I called Mom, and I was infuriatingly unable to allow myself to cry. If I could have had a moment to myself, the tears would have come without effort, but instead I comforted my brothers, I made phone calls, and I wove in ends, and had to stop myself from laughing, because it was such a futile task, but I couldn't leave them unfinished now, and I had to have something to do with my hands.
They're finished, and I suppose nothing I could have done would have allowed them to be finished in time to actually warm my dad's hands, but I tucked them beside him when we said our last goodbyes, before they closed the lid and draped the flag over him.
My dad was buried with full military honors, because he was a veteran who loved his country, and he was buried with a pair of grey and blue fingerless gloves, because he had a daughter who was a knitter and loved her dad, and wanted him to be warm.