Deathbed Triptych (RIP Ronald Baggs, 1941-2014)


Early days
Just diagnosed
Will he live out the week?

I wanted to make a sacrifice
To show him how much he meant to me
And I knew
Though will never understand
That the sound of my voice
Is everything to him

So I
A functionally nonverbal autistic
Practiced all day, all night
Called him on Skype

Typed “Listen closely
This is hard
It will only happen once”

Said out loud
“I — love — you — Ron.”

He cried.

He cried again when I told him
My brother was trying to find
A way to get me out to his house
So I could see my dad
One last time

He cried hard —
We both knew it wouldn’t  happen
Just like during his last visit to Vermont
We cried our eyes out when he left
Because despite no diagnosis or even symptoms
We knew it was
The last time
We would see each other alive

And this time
We both knew
I would never make it
To the Siskiyous
In time to say goodbye


I told Ron in a letter
I was packaging up all my love for him
And storing it outside of time
Where he could always perceive it

I lamented all the things
That I would leave unsaid
Until it was too late
All the questions unasked
And unanswered

But I knew the most important
— I love you —
Had already been said
So many times
But never too many

We Skyped that day
And he told me
I didn’t need to say anything
He could read all my thoughts
Through my eyes
So nothing, nothing
Nothing was left unsaid

He said he could see a glow
Around anyone, including animals
Who was experiencing love
I opened my heart to him completely
Without even thinking about it

He laughed
He said
“…and you can do it on purpose!”

We both laughed
I tried not to cry
I had put forth so much effort
To speak out loud in his language
Now he was becoming fluent in mine
On his deathbed


He was almost too weak to talk
And could not read the words
I typed in the Instant Message window

I could not repeat
My original feat of speech

So I trilled
The way a momma cat trills to her kittens
And they trill back
Like a voiced purr

“I wish I could do that,”
He said

I opened my heart
As wide as it would go
And trilled, and purred
And purred,and trilled
And poured all of my love
Into each sound

I know he felt it
Even through the pain
Even though I could tell
How much effort it took him
To even attend to my purring
How much his body just wanted to rest
I’d been there
I knew the signs

I knew it would be
The last time I saw him alive
So I wrote a goodbye letter
With everything I’d ever wanted to say

My mom wrote back to tell me
When he heard my name
His eyes opened wide
And when she read the letter
He tried hard to smile

I love you. And I understand what it’s like when you’re just too exhausted to take visitors, or even to think about other people. When your mind recedes inside itself because there’s no energy to think, and your brain is overworked just running your body.  I Skyped you last night to say goodbye to you.  I couldn’t say it out loud of course, but I did purr at you an awful lot. I know your brain can’t handle a lot so I’ll keep this short. You’ve been the best father I could ever hope to have. I wish you luck wherever you are going when you die, if you go anywhere at all. Remember I have put all my love for you into a place you can go whenever you need it, before or after you die.  I love you more than I can say. Remember to surrender to love and you’ll be fine no matter what happens. And in case I never Skype with you again, goodbye.  I could say more, but I’ve been saying it all with my eyes the last several times we’ve communicated. You know what I mean. I love you. Goodbye.

So she read it to him twice
She said it was a good start to their day

I felt as if I had dropped a rock
Into a bottomless lake
Then turned and walked away
Without looking back

Not looking back 
Was the hardest thing
I’ve ever done

IV. Epilogue

There would be no more letters
No more video chats 
No more sent from me to him
Except the blazing white-hot love
That he said he perceived from me
Every day now
As if I was right there in the room

I had learned to kythe with him
So late in his life
I once said I wished we had learned
To love each other this way
And perceive each other’s love
When we were younger and healthier

He said maybe the time wasn’t right until now
Death made him wise 
Beyond even his considerable years
Death can do that
If you open yourself unconditionally
To the Love that is the other face of Death

I was bursting with pride
That in the months since diagnosis
He had progressed from terrified of Death
To embracing Love
And conquering his fears

So when the time came
He crossed over so fast
It startled even my mother
Who had been holding his hand
Coaching him through
The last phases of dying

But as for me…
I never spoke to him again alive
My letter really was goodbye
And it took everything in me
To press the send button on the email
Because I knew I would never be around
To hear the stone hit the bottom of that lake

Walking away
Never looking back
Only looking forward
To await the news of his death
Was the hardest thing I’ve ever done

That’s what saying goodbye
The final goodbye
Means, when you’re 
Thousands of miles away
And trying not to show him
How weak you get under severe stress
With adrenal insufficiency

(The day I got the news
He was going into hospice care
I got so weak I needed
My bipap as a makeshift ventilator
But he had enough on his plate
I wanted him to die knowing
I was finally safe.)

I will continue to write you letters
For my sake more than yours
Wherever you are, you don’t need them
But I do
And so do others 
Who have a death in the family
I need my letters and poetry
Because it takes the turmoil inside
And turns it into orderly strings of words 

Goodbye Ron — God(s) be with ye
Lovbye, Ron — Love be with ye 
In our family God and Love
Mean the same thing
That’s what you and Anna taught me
I love you 

And every time I see Love in action
I’ll know you are a part of it
And I’ll kythe to you the knowledge
That it’s good to see you again. 

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