my one parental kiss
My first memory of seeing my father and mother together in the same room is when I’m 42.
It is in a hospital room a few weeks before his death. It’s also the first and only time I see my parents hug and kiss, I the only witness to their final goodbye. Alfred will die of prostate cancer; later, Irene will die of a brain seizure. As I am their sole mutual biological child, I am afraid my death will be caused by either my brain or my bum.
Mom and I enter my father’s room in Shaunavon Union Hospital, the hospital where I was born. Alfred raises himself slightly by grabbing on the metal bar of his bed with one thin arm and gives my mom an awkward hug. She sits down in the chair I have pulled up for her, up against his hospital bed, my chair right beside.
They begin talking immediately, oblivious of me sitting there. They look so animated and happy. They talk about many people they both know and who is where and whose kids married who. They seem to talk like they have talked to each other every day of their lives, though they have spent the last forty years three hours apart.
Mom, always the shutterbug, demands photographs. She pulls out her camera and I pose with Alfred on his bed. She and I switch positions and the moment she sits on the bed, his arm around her, his eyes light up with a mischievous glint.
As I stand there in the little hospital room, looking into the restrictive camera viewfinder, trying to frame my mother and father sitting on the bed, they are whispering to each other. He has a big smile on his face; she seems to be blushing.
We are there for about an hour, having a great visit, when my mom bolts up from her chair and says “It’s time I go.” She quickly leans forward and gives Alfred a long hard hug, kisses him, and runs out of the room hiding her face.
The suddenness of her actions surprises me and when I look back at Alfred, his face seems to be in shock, which slowly turns to trembles and tears.
A nurse checks in and Alfred grabs her forearm, clears his throat, and somehow manages: “I want you to meet my son.”
She smiles and gives me a big wink with the eye away from him, which I take to mean, “Ignore that – it’s the drugs talking.” I don’t take offence as that was the first time I ever heard him say he was my father.
The first and only time we hug is the last time I see him. I am leaving and we are standing in the doorway of his hospital room — he’s struggling to remain standing, gripping his walker. We say our good-byes, then, as I am about to walk away, I turn back to give him an awkward one-arm hug around him and his walker. He is startled by my action — the last image I have is a side-view of him quickly hobbling into his room, tears pouring down his face.
A week later, when I am back home, I receive the phone-call from his lawyer/executor that Alfred has died. I drive back to Shaunavon with my wife. Mom drives there by herself from Regina, the exact solo trip Alfred did 42 years ago after he dropped her and their newborn child off in the Queen City and returned home alone.
We have no idea who will be at his funeral. I have never met anyone in his family, and I have no idea how big or small it is. Mom is terrified as she has never had any contact with any of Alfred’s relatives since she ran away in humiliation over four decades ago, carrying her children and bastard baby.
Us three meekly, tentatively, enter Christ the King Roman Catholic Church and the friendly usher asks, “Family or friends?”
“Um, um, ah —“ is all I say.
The usher’s face lights up. “You’re the boy! Follow me.”
We are seated in the front row.
The service is quite simple, with the priest excusing himself to allow a lay person to read the eulogy, which is the newspaper obituary. It ends with:
… is survived by one son, one sister, one brother, one sister-in-law, numerous nieces and nephews, and his good friend of many years, Irene, the mother of his son.
Mom has her head down, sobbing.