Writing About My Father, Day 23
My father doesn’t want a funeral. I don’t remember if he believes in reincarnation or that when you die, your consciousness is just—poof!—gone. At the funeral of my grandmother—my father’s mother Rose—he said he couldn’t understand “why everyone was boohoo-ing.” According to him, she was dead, it was her fault for not taking care of her health issues, and that was that. I remember telling him that the funeral wasn’t for her, that it was for people who loved her to have time to grieve as a community. He was singularly unimpressed. I was supposed to stand up and say thank you to to everyone on behalf of her four grandchildren, but I couldn’t face all the eyes and not knowing the right words. I didn’t know what to say about the woman who had just died. The grandmother I knew had long passed; when we went to visit I didn’t recognize the gaunt, silent woman stretched out on the hospital bed like a fish on ice, eyes wide and staring. She didn’t look like a woman who had been to Russia and Israel with her senior citizens group, who watched the Mets religiously, who could still play the “Hallelujah Chorus” as vigorously on the organ as when she’d been a young woman, newly converted from Catholicism to a more pentecostal strain of Christianity because God had answered her prayer and healed her only son from a grave illness after the protestant preacher came visiting.
My father wants to be cremated. I don’t think he even wants a memorial service, but I can’t imagine not gathering with my father’s brothers and his cousins to hear them swap stories of being young and poor and fearless and desperate to leave Guyana and Trinidad. Before they’d learned in how many different ways their own hearts were already broken. Before they ached that heartbreak into their wives and their children. I am already starting to not recognize my father. His hair is gone. His body is disappearing into the valleys of bedsheets and pajamas. He is not sitting at the computer when I get there scheming how to watch cricket for free, or at the kitchen table gorging on peanuts as he talks about the Mets or why he voted for Obama the first time “to be on the right side of history” or how we’d know about money if we’d only grown up with him.
When my father dies, he will be gone. My father will die and maybe I’ll ask his wife if I can take the vinyl records that have been languishing in a cupboard for decades. And maybe she’ll tell me they are for her son, and maybe I won’t care and take them anyway. When my grandmother Rose died, my sister and I were allowed to go into a closet where some of her things lingered and take what we wanted, my youngest brother alternately insisting the whole time that my grandmother wasn’t really dead, and that everything we took was exactly what he wanted to keep. I feel instead of “When my grandmother Rose died,” I should write “Weeks after my grandmother….” or “Months after my grandmother….,” but I don’t know if I’m remembering truth or anger. I took two silver vintage evening purses, one of which my grandmother is wearing in a beautiful photo of her in a pink gown at a formal event, I took a piano-shaped rhinestone brooch, which I never wear because it’s too kitschy, and I took another brooch in simulated tortoise, a capital “R.” My sister took all of my grandmother’s hats. I wanted my grandmother’s piano, but it was claimed for my youngest brother. He is a talented musician, but, still, the piano languishes in the garage year by year becoming more dust than piano.
What will anchor me to my father when he is gone? Sometimes if I stare into the mirror, I see glimpses of his face, but mostly it’s my mother who’s usurping my face more and more each year. I don’t have any stories that start, “My father really encouraged me to…” or “The best advice my father ever gave me was….” My father will leave me absence, he will leave me grief, but how will I be able to tell this new grief, this new absence from what I have carried with me all these long years? What new character will my father’s death bruise into the wounds that still occasionally purple my skin when I am handled roughly, or I let someone else too far in? I want to know for sure that even as I myself drift toward becoming more dust than body, for as long as I persist, then yes, for my father, there will be life after death, that, even in death, he will insist in me.