At 4:00 a.m. the nurse woke Dad to give him a breathing treatment. "Mr. Hershberger, do you know where you are?"

"Goshen Hospital," he answered politely and closed his eyes again.

She wrapped the blood pressure cuff around his arm. "Mr. Hershberger, who's the president of the United States?"

Dad looked at me with an expression that said, "Do I have to answer these silly questions in the middle of the night?"

She raised her voice, "Mr. Hershberger! Who's the president of the United States?"

"Do we have one?" he asked her.

"Good answer, Dad," I teased.

The nurse laughed loudly, gave him a mock punch on the shoulder, put an oxygen mask over his face, and turned on the noisy machine. "I guess you're awake and alert."

A week or two. That's how long the doctor said Dad might live, and we wanted to make the most of every minute.

I was glad to sit with my father-in-law during the night, while my husband, Dwight, slept on a sofa in the visitor's lounge down the hall.

When the breathing treatment was finished, the nurse repositioned Dad on his right side in the middle of the bed, carefully placing pillows against his back for support. He promptly pulled himself out of her neat nest and scooted to the side of the bed, his face almost against the bed rail.

"Okay, be that way!" she laughed.

I pulled my chair close to the bed and covered myself with a blanket. "I'm going to stay right here, Dad," I assured him, his hand in mine. "How are you feeling?"

"Fine," he answered automatically.

I frowned at him, and he chuckled weakly.

"Not too good," he admitted.

I was grateful Dr. Yoder had been straightforward with Dad. He had told him that he would continue to weaken and sleep more. Eventually, he'd fall asleep and not wake up.

Sweet memories

I brushed the damp hair from his forehead. "I wonder how it feels to know that you'll soon see God."

"It feels good," Dad said without hesitating.

"It's such a mystery. Tell us what you feel and see and hear, to help us understand what you're experiencing."

"I'll try," he promised.

"Are you scared?"

"No," he said, "I feel at peace. I've been wishing to go to heaven all day."

I could hear the nurses talking at the desk. "Do you know if there's a bed available at Greencroft yet? Mr. Hershberger's supposed to be transferred to the nursing center there on Saturday."

This was Tuesday night. In four days, Dad would be transferred to the nursing center where he hoped he'd never have to go.

I thought about Dad falling asleep and not waking up. There were some things I wanted to tell him. "Hey, Dad, soon after Dwight and I started dating, he told me what you said about me. You told him he had picked a good one. You told him I was a peach. No one ever called me a peach before. And I've loved you ever since."

He squeezed my hand and closed his eyes.

"I'd better be quiet and let you sleep," I apologized.



SIX INCHES FROM MY FACE, SOMETHING SUPERNATURAL HAD OCCURED.

"No," he said quickly. "I want you to keep talking. I just can't keep my eyes open."

"I've always wanted to thank you for helping me plant that sweet gum tree as a surprise for Dwight's birthday," I told him. "You were so kind. You could have warned me that sweet gum trees drop thousands of nasty, prickly balls in the fall. But I was so excited about the wonderful tree I had bought. You couldn't bear to burst my bubble, could you?"

"The leaves are pretty," he said.

I laughed. "That's another thing I love about you. You see the best in everything."

A golden moment

Dad jumped as though startled by something.

I sat up, held both of his hands in mine, and put my face close to his. "Is something wrong, Dad?"

His eyes were open, but he didn't seem to see me.

"I'm leaving," I thought I heard him say in a weak voice.

"Did you say, 'I'm leaving?'" I asked quickly.

"I'm leaving," he repeated more distinctly.