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By the Numbers

By Rita Lussier

I never watched anyone die before. At some point that Thursday with the October sun slanting in under the shades of the intensive care room, the nurse stopped in. She asked if we wanted the monitor turned off so we wouldn’t be disturbed by the buzzing and the beeping, the wavy lines going up and going down. For the first time during those long hours, I spoke up: "Leave it on. Leave the numbers.”

I needed the numbers. Heart rate. Blood pressure. Oxygen level. I needed the graphs, the sounds, the focal point in the corner of the room to somehow gauge what was happening, to prove this was real.

Numbers were something I had always shared with my dad. At 96, he could add a column of figures faster in his head than I could punch them into a calculator. We liked the way numbers made sense. In an unpredictable world, they provided a logical formula for figuring things out. One plus one would always and forevermore equal two. Simple and straightforward. Just like him and me. I understood him. He got me. I had his back. He was always there for me. I needed those numbers on the monitor. Even though his eyes were closed and he wasn’t talking, I needed to know he was fighting. Against all odds, he was hanging in. 

Until the wavy line went flat and the numbers were gone. 

My sister cried. My brother-in-law and my husband cried. Later, when I told my kids, they cried, too. But my eyes were dry.

“You’ll cry when you’re ready,” my friend Sharon said. “When my father passed, I was strong for everyone just like you. But then when I was riding my bike or walking at the beach, something reminded me of him and the tears came.”

But mine didn’t. Not at the funeral. Not on the first Thanksgiving without him or even Christmas. What’s wrong with me? My dad and I were so close. He was my confidant, my friend. He told me many times that he had lived a full life, a happy life. “Don’t feel sad when I go.” That’s what he said. But I always thought I would.

Recently, my cousin David asked how I was doing since losing my dad.

“I just feel happy to have had him here for all these years. I feel so grateful for the inspiration, the values, the lessons.”

96 years of a life well-lived. One man I could always count on. Happy is greater than sad. Gratitude is more than loss. Love keeps adding up even after it’s taken away. Suddenly, the numbers made sense. 

And then came the tears.

— Rita Lussier

Rita Lussier is an award-winning journalist and writer whose column “For the Moment” was a popular feature of The Providence Journal for 12 years. Her writing has also been featured on National Public Radio, in The Boston Globe, The New York Daily News and many online publications. She is excited to have won first place for her human interest story in the 2022 Erma Bombeck Writing Competition, an honor she has received three times. She lives with her husband and daughter in Jamestown, Rhode Island, where she is currently working on a memoir.

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