Writing About My Father Day 30 or Writing About Love Day 5

My favorite pic of my father, circa mid to late 1950s

My favorite pic of my father, circa mid to late 1950s

When my stepmother wanted to play “Lady in Red” and “Always and Forever” and “The Power of Love” (Celine Dion version) at my father’s funeral, I thought it was crazy. But it was one of the only things that was right. The man who did the service at the funeral home mispronounced my father’s name (Sheldon instead of Shelon, which was my Dad’s nickname; at the crematorium Allen, twice, instead of Alban), and that same man (purposely?) twice skipped the part where I was going to read Sonnet 76 by Shakespeare, until his wife stage-whispered, “What about the poem?” My father didn’t want a funeral, but we wanted to say good-bye to him, and my stepmother wanted a choir. Perhaps it doesn’t matter cause none of us listened anyway. And I was hungry and stood in the vestibule eating a sleeve of Ritz crackers about halfway through the viewing.

My father died 13 days ago. I am waiting for his death to click into place, like a sticky seatbelt or a key in the lock of a door that is inevitable but across town. I watched my father die. I would like to tell you how many hours we waited on that day, but I was on night duty the day before so I can’t precisely calculate how long he was actively dying or how long I was trying to keep myself awake while he died. He died at 10:23 pm. He took three last breaths in my version of it. And then my stepmother let out a wail—lasting 2 or 3 hours—that sent us all running from the room. We were crushed by her grief, choking on our own. No. My grief was peaceful, the way an empty room is sad and peaceful. Or my grief couldn’t breathe once her wailing sucked all of the oxygen from the room, my father’s face relaxing so it looked longer than it ever had, and his long, beautiful lashes laid folded against his gaunt cheeks, not like a butterfly, but like a pair of still and terrible animals.

My father died 13 days ago, and I have been trying to write for 13 days about him dying. About how I don’t feel anything, not because I’m not sad or lonely but because what I feel is still walking slowly toward me across the cavernous space between my father’s body and the bed where I sat to watch. I am waiting for it, but also, I am sleeping and sleeping and wishing I didn’t have to get out of bed to warm up some soup, and joking to my sister that I want to join Witness Protection cause it’s too hard to talk to people and it’s too hard to listen.

After my father died thanks to my father’s two brothers (the youngest and the one who was next-oldest after my father) we had scotch and White Castle. And the funeral director quipped he’d like to buy my little brother’s Porsche, which seems like it would be inappropriate but made it easier to let him in the door. My stepmother didn’t ask if we were okay but I don’t mind anymore. I think now that maybe she feels this loss not only for herself but for everyone who knew my father, so she doesn’t have to ask. She knows. (And maybe I’m being too kind here, but so many people were casually unkind over the last 13 days, I want to overcompensate.)

They carried my father out of his house in something that was like a mash-up of a Bjorn and a duffel bag and you could see my father’s face, floating out of the room, past the hall closet with the sodas and six boxes of my stepmother’s hair color, past the stairs, past the coat closet and the new washing machine in the laundry, all at ankle level, way below the reach of our fingers. But, still, 13 days later, I am waiting for my father to die. I’ve read enough books to know that at some point I may not be able to remember his laugh. And we will all start to disagree on exactly how it went that day. And my father will keep on dying, as people do, until I am the one carried out of a house, maybe one with a coat closet and a downstairs pantry, and that distance between where my father died and where I sat watching him die will become a little smaller.

Posted on January 29, 2014, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. “I’ve read enough books to know that at some point I may not be able to remember his laugh.” Powerful.

  2. Oh, you are a beautiful woman, and this is a beautiful account. I love you. I hope LOVE, the big thing, will surround you when your father’s death walks all the way to you…he’ll be walking on water, won’t he, and you’ll be floating…

  3. I am a friend of your sister, Deborah. My Dad passed away on January 1st. He was such a gentleman, and waited until after the holiday celebrations were over—at least that’s how I like to remember it. This is so wonderfully written…I find myself doing something so typical and stopping abruptly, midstream, and remembering…my father is gone…it really hasn’t become completely real for me. Thanks for sharing….praying your strength.

    • Tamara–I’m sorry you lost your Dad. I too find myself doing something typical and then my Dad rises up. Like I was just watching Beauty and the Beast and started thinking about how my Dad’s face looked in the last months of his life and how it was like I was really seeing him for the first time. I know nothing makes this feel better, but I pray that along with the grief there is peace. Hugs, P.

  4. Hi, I too am a friend of your sister. My father passed about 13 and a half years ago and I still can’t believe he actually up and did it. He waited until my mother, sister and I were out of his hospital room for about 15 minutes and slipped quietly away. But life evolves even if somehow we are left wondering if things are true. I do not feel like I am 13.5 year older all the time but all I have to do is look at my five nieces and nephews, four of whom came to this earth after he left. The oldest was just four months old when he left and now he is taller than me and I think I noticed a little peach fuzz over his upper lip the other day. The other children exhibit my father’s qualities even though they never knew him except for what we told them and by looking at the pictures and videos. The youngest boy is 5 months now and is a SPITTING image of how my father looked as an old man (crazy hair, no teeth), crazy I know. My point… you will not forget how your father laughed, life will not let you, your love for him will not let you. I believe life will bring you beautiful reminders of your father and your love for him for the rest of your life. Thank you for allowing me to read your beautiful essay. God bless you and yours.

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