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Hospital bed with IV

Honor Guard

Keith A. Kenel

A family waits on the death of the patriarch. Feelings of frustration are vented between the mother and her two grown children concerning the lives of each of the characters. The father rallies for a brief moment before passing.


TERRY: A man in his seventies

CELIA: A woman in her sixties

MADDIE: A woman in her early to mid thirties; the daughter of TERRY and CELIA

TERRENCE: A man in his mid to late thirties; the son of TERRY and CELIA

A hospital room. A man, TERRY, lies on a bed breathing with oxygen. An IV tube of saline is hooked to his arm. A woman, CELIA, sits in a chair by his side.

This play intentionally has a minimum of stage direction. Space, time, ethnicity and place have little to do with its meaning.

A soft knock on the door

CELIA: Come in.

Enter MADDIE and TERRENCE. CELIA stands. They embrace.

MADDIE: Hey, Mom. How’s Daddy? Is he still…

CELIA: Yeah, same as he’s been for weeks. He’s still breathing. He hasn’t moved in hours. His respiration is slow and choppy but he’s still breathing.

TERRENCE: Where are the kids?

CELIA: Lonni has them. She’s been great, but then, of course she knows…

TERRENCE: Did they see him?

CELIA: Yeah. They were here for a little while. TJ was jabbering up a storm and Felicia gave him a picture she drew. Francis didn’t say much, but…

MADDIE: Do you think they’re alright? Did they act like they did when Lucy, when she…?

CELIA: I don’t know that they’re alright but they’re coping. It’s hard on everyone, but it’s not like this is out of the blue like Lucy’s death was. TJ wouldn’t even look at Lucy during the funeral and he was talking to… talking to Terry. Francis doesn’t say anything but I think they’re okay.

MADDIE: God, this just sucks for them. All the crap they’ve had in their lives, all the uncertainty and now this too.

TERRENCE: Yeah, well it’s hard on everyone.

CELIA: I keep thinking about your aunts: About Claudia and Katie. Losing Terry is like that; we know he won’t be here much longer. This wasting is so hard, but at least we have time to be together and to talk about, well, to talk.

MADDIE: And you’re going to let Daddy go tomorrow?

CELIA: Tomorrow? Maddie, I don’t think he’s going to make it till tomorrow. I talked to the doctors and we agreed not to resuscitate. Just like we said I would; like we all agreed. It’s time to let him have peace.

MADDIE: What are you saying?

CELIA: What am I saying? I know this is hard but it’s been coming for over a year. He’s not getting any better. He’s barely breathing and when he’s conscious he’s in nothing but pain. It’s not fair to him to keep bringing him back; we have to let him go.

MADDIE: Mom, no. Not today.

CELIA: Are you listening? It isn’t fair to your father; it isn’t fair to me or to the kids-

MADDIE: What about Terrence?

CELIA and TERRENCE Overlapping

CELIA: Terrence?

TERRENCE: No, Maddie it’s alright. Let it go.

MADDIE: I won’t let it go! It’s Terrence’s birthday!

CELIA: What? Oh my God, no. Oh, sweet Jesus, what have I done?

TERRENCE: It’s okay, really it’s okay.

CELIA: Oh, I’m so sorry. I didn’t think…

TERRENCE: It’s alright I said. He’s suffered enough, it’s time…

MADDIE: No, Terrence! It is not alright! You were crying the whole way over here-

TERRENCE: Stop it! Of course I was crying, I mean, Jesus Christ, he’s dying! It’s not important that it’s my birthday! We have to let him go.

CELIA: I’m sorry about your birthday but I can’t wait any longer. I am so, so sorry but I can’t watch him suffer even one more day. Please, please forgive me. He deserves to be set free. He needs to be at peace. I know it’s selfish but I have to let him go.

MADDIE: And Terrence is just supposed to live with that for the rest of his life? That you let Daddy die on his birthday? Like it’s not important? Like he should just let it go? Jesus, Mom!

TERRENCE: Stop it! It’s not what Dad would want! It’s not selfish. He’s not really here, not really alive, it’s just those machines that were keeping him going! Good or bad, we can’t be so self-centered. We owe him his release. It’s okay.

MADDIE: (whispering) “Take a step away from self-centered thinking.”

CELIA: What did you say?

MADDIE: It was something Daddy would say to me when things were going badly. He would tell me to, “Take a step away from self-centered thinking,” to look at the big picture and see what was going on all around. He would remind me to cherish the company of those we love and not to quit.

CELIA: And you think I’m quitting? You don’t think I would hold on if there was anything to hold on to? All I’ve been doing is holding on in desperation to what I need to let go of! Do you have any idea what I’m going through? The feeling of utter helplessness as this crawls to its inevitable conclusion? I have three young children to bring up and I’m alone! I can’t keep hoping for a miracle!

TERRENCE: Of course. You’re right. It doesn’t matter. Do it today; I know he would do the same for me.

MADDIE: Terrence!

TERRENCE: It’s alright. It’s what he’d do for me.

MADDIE: It’s not what he’d do to Mom if things were reversed!

TERRENCE: Maddie! No!

MADDIE: You know it’s true!

CELIA: How dare you! For forty years I was mother and father to you! What did Terry do? He played with you. Oh, he loved you, God knows he loves you, but he didn’t parent you! He didn’t do the hard jobs! Not what he’d do? Of course not; he never made the hard choice in his life! If it was hard he left it for me. When you were children who was responsible for discipline? Me! When your sister crawled into her hell hole all he could think of was saving her. Saving her; not helping her!

TERRENCE: Stop it! He can hear you!

CELIA:  Oh, God! I’m sorry! I’m sorry, Terry. I’m so sorry, Maddie! I just create more misery for what we’ve lost! So much Sadness for what could have been. How did things fall apart? Why did everything have to go so badly? Damn it, Terry! Why couldn’t you take better care of yourself? Why do you have to leave me alone now? My dad, my sisters, my daughter, and now you? Oh, Terry!

MADDIE: It’s Lucy. It’s always been Lucy. If she hadn’t fucked everything up our lives wouldn’t be like this and dad would be fine.

TERRENCE: What? Stop. You know that isn’t true. It wasn’t Lucy. Things just happen sometimes. Life doesn’t always go the way we want. Dad made us rich; I just can’t let go yet!

MADDIE: I don’t know it isn’t true. Ever since I can remember, ever since I was born, everything was always about her. First her learning disability, then her drinking, her rape, her stupid drinking and drugs and then she kills herself and leaves those three-

CELIA: Lucy did not kill herself!

MADDIE: Oh, just listen to you! She killed herself as sure as if she’d shot herself in the head! And it’s not your fault, it’s not Daddy’s fault and it sure the hell isn’t mine or Terrence’s!

CELIA: Stop. Stop. I know you think we gave Lucy more time and attention than we gave to you but she needed it! You were safe, you could do things, normal things and she couldn’t. He spent as much time with you as he did your sister. He coached you and came to your games and watched out for you. He loved all of you the same! Lucy just needed more help than you two did.

MADDIE: That’s bullshit and you know it! I got the time that was left over.  She had crisis after crisis from the day I was born and you both spent your time helping her and ignoring us!

TERRENCE: No, it’s not true. I know Lucy needed more time but Mom and Dad gave us lots of time too. She did need more time but that’s the way it is sometimes. If one person’s on fire and the other one’s not you don’t watch one burn because you want to treat them equally. Sometimes fair is giving more to one person than another. That’s okay. That’s life. You can’t just divide your love and your time equally between everyone and call that fair. Some people need more. Lucy needed more.

MADDIE: More? She always needed more; no matter how much we gave her she always needed more. More! I swear the only good thing she ever did was bring those kids into the world.

CELIA: Enough! That is- that is- Do not talk that way about your sister and not in front of your father! She was so beautiful. We wanted her life to be beautiful too, but we didn’t know how to help her. She kept slipping away and none of the rehabs ever seemed to help. It was like she was constantly in a terrible storm in a tiny boat in a raging sea. We couldn’t help her; and when we found out she’d been stealing from us your father couldn’t press charges, he just couldn’t: And so we lost her. And now we’re losing him. Oh, God! I am sick of all this death!

TERRENCE: Those poor kids. We’ll help, Mom. I will, and Diane, and so will Maddie and Aaron. We’ll be there for you. We love those kids. We’ll be there for them.

MADDIE: That’s what family’s for. Louise can’t have her Pop-Pop, but we’re family. We’ll help with the kids.

TERRENCE: When is Pat getting here?

CELIA: Tomorrow. She flies in from Cedar Rapids Tomorrow.

MADDIE:  I think the best eulogy I ever heard was the one Aunt Pat said at Aunt Claudia’ funeral. All these people were saying how good Aunt Claudia was, how great she was, and Pat just laid it on the line: I mean, nobody is all Saint or all sinner. She talked about the crazy things they did in college and how much fun Claudia was. How the two of them drove down the pedestrian mall in Claudia’s car for Pat’s birthday! Claudia was a mix of greatness and stupidity, just like all of us. And that’s what Daddy was; he wasn’t perfect, God knows he screwed up, but he loved us and he tried to do what was right.

TERRY: Who… you… calling…stupid?

MADDIE: Daddy!

TERRY: Not…  gone yet.

All go to TERRY’s bed.

CELIA: Terry, Terry. Thank God you’re here!

TERRY: I’m here. Great… to see… you four… all.. here.

TERRENCE: Breathe easy, Pop-Pop; we’re all here.

MADDIE: Daddy, I didn’t bring Aaron or Louise. They would have wanted to see you and talk to you.

TERRY: I’m sorry… about… Louise. That… I can’t…  can’t… be there. For her. For you…. and Aaron.

MADDIE: No, Daddy, no! It doesn’t matter. You’re here now, we’re here together.

CELIA: Oh, Terry! I just wanted you back. I wanted to say goodbye.

TERRY: Okay, Lucy. I hear you. I… just have… a minute.


TERRY: Yes. Isn’t it… great! To… have her back! I… missed you… so much.

CELIA: Yes, Terry. Yes, it’s great that Lucy is here for you. That she’s here for all of us. We all knew she’d come to see you.

TERRENCE: I’ve been thinking about Gettysburg: Of the trips we made there? We should go again this fall, don’t you think? Maybe bring the twins? And T.J. if he wants to come. It’ll be great.

TERRY: Yeah… Terrence… that’d be… great. But… don’t count… on… me going… with you. I’ll be… looking for you there… but don’t count… on seeing me. I don’t think… I’m gonna’… make it this… time.

CELIA: No, Terry? You always loved your trips with Terrence: And watching Maddie play softball and basketball. I wish we could, could, just get down to Jones’ Beach one more time and see your parents.

TERRY: My parents? Celia… my folks have been… dead… for decades now. You… know that.

CELIA: Oh, sure, Terry. I was just dreaming.

MADDIE: We’ll visit them down in the city though. We’ll keep visiting them the way you always like to: Like we’ll do for you, Pop-Pop. You’ll always be with us.

TERRY: Lucy says… I have… to go. I love… you all. Take care… of… each other. Terrence… take care… of Diane.

CELIA: Terry!


CELIA: He’s gone.

TERRENCE: Joy in our last peaceful moments shared. Thanks for our last words. We are never ready for what comes. But the long sleep is what was needed. Your struggle is over and mine has just begun. Be free, father.

MADDIE: Oh, Pop-Pop! The tether has been removed; your pain has been eased. I love you, Daddy.

TERRENCE: The memories will be forever, Dad. I will always treasure the quiet time spent with you. You were a friend, my father, my idol.

CELIA: Words failed. There was so much to say that was left unsaid.

MADDIE: Rest easy, Pops.

CELIA: I love you.