My dad used to talk about dying a lot, long before he ever got sick. “When I kick the bucket someday,” he would always start out. We’d always protest this, and he would say, “Well, it’s gonna happen!”
Then about a year ago, after he passed away, after we finally got someone to watch Vincent and borrowed money to go up north so that I could see my mom and my family and pay my last respects, I was alone in my dad’s room, running my hands over books that he had. Well, Dad, that day you always talked about has happened, I remember thinking. The thought surprised me. I didn’t mean to think it. It seemed very cold and matter-of-fact. It felt separate from me.
It’s gonna happen!
One of the things my dad frequently talked about were his journals. He had one for all of us kids. He wrote in them specifically for us to read only after he died. When his mom died, he had wished he had letters or something like that from her afterward. Which I think would have been difficult–I was thinking that she couldn’t read or write very well. I am pretty sure my dad once told me she only went to the second grade.
We all got our journals while we were up there, along with the pens he had used to write in our specific journals. Of course, I recognized my journal immediately. Besides the labels he had on all of them (he had become very forgetful and started labeling EVERYTHING, including the pictures in his room), the journal was a notebook that I had given to him years before. I still remember buying it. I thought it was the prettiest notebook, and I had originally intended to buy it for myself, but then I thought my dad would like it, so I gave it to him instead. I was right–he loved it. In fact, that notebook is what gave him the idea to start all the journals for us kids.
What a strange feeling to get it back.
After I had come back from up north, it took a few days to get myself to read it, not only emotionally, but, well, Vincent was still a baby after all and demanded a lot of time. Finally, I did.
What was in it?
Mostly, “I love you” and “I wish I could see you guys more.”
I felt so bad. It was a whole notebook of longing. I left home at 18 and except for a month during my divorce, I hadn’t really been in the same town as my parents for very long. Hell, half of the time, I wasn’t even in the same part of the state.
And that was the hardest part of my dad’s death. Diana had been giving Jennifer and me updates. Jen lives in North Dakota, so she was in the same boat I was, having to rely on Diana to determine how good/bad Dad’s condition was. Diana kept saying Dad looked awful, we may need to prepare.
But last year was after all the ACA stuff took effect. There was no way that I could get out of work. And Dad had actually been moved out of ICU and from what Jennifer had heard, he was doing better. Jennifer and I discussed it. We love Diana, but Diana does tend to be on the dramatic side, and we thought Dad would probably be okay.
I remember it was the 23rd when Jennifer told me that she actually talked to Dad. I was surprised. My dad had suffered a stroke, and I have no clue why, but I had gotten it into my head that because he couldn’t really talk, he also really couldn’t understand, so I hadn’t called because I didn’t want to bother him. Jennifer said that even with her medical experience and knowledge that he was a stroke victim, it still choked her up when he tried to respond to say “I love you” to her. The words were garbled, but the intonation was there.
I remember this conversation was on the 23rd because it was the night before my dad passed away. I hung up with Jim and said, Oh, my god, why didn’t I think he could understand? We agreed that I would call him the next day after I got off from work. I would call my dad and let him know that I was thinking of him.
But, of course, I got the call at 6:30 in the morning before I even punched into work that Dad had passed away. I never got to make the call. I never got to tell him anything.
Since then, my Facebook feed has had many messages of grief. A year ago, they were mostly of my father. Eventually, new faces have appeared. More photo changes to honor the dead, more words of longing.
I sometimes still don’t know if I’ll ever have the words to express how I feel about my dad’s passing. I knew it was coming, and it still was such a shock. And along with the initial grief, all I could think was that Dad may be happier this way. Dad missed a lot of people who had passed away–my father, a man who didn’t believe in ghosts confessed he had seen my grandmother once at the end of his bed after she died–but Joshua’s death shook him hard.
Between his grief and his rapidly declining quality of life, I honestly think my dad chose death. I think this because he had been getting better. But people around him were also talking about putting him in a nursing home. There was no way my dad would have ever been okay with that. So he did what most people hope they have a chance to do before they die: He looked at my mom and mouthed I love you to her. And then he was gone.
Maybe one day I’ll get a handle on all this.
I’ve been reading another online friend’s blog, one who has recently lost her mom. It’s eerie how similar some of the thoughts are. Where are they? We can’t move because they won’t be able to find us.
But as someone who has gone through a major loss before…you do move. You move because life makes you, whether you want to or not. And you trust that you will find each other again.
I can’t find the right words. In a year, I still haven’t put my finger on anything. And so I’ll borrow Amy Tan’s from one of my most favorite books ever, The Hundred Secret Senses, a book that is about love, annoying family members, and yes, life after death:
Now I’m looking at the heavens again. This is the same sky that Simon is now seeing, that we have seen all our lives, together and apart. The same sky that Kwan sees, that all her ghosts saw, Miss Banner. Only now I no longer feel it is a vacuum for hopes or a backdrop for fears. I see what is so simple, so obvious. It holds up the stars, the planets, the moons, all of life, for eternity. I can always find it, and it will always find me.
And that about sums it up.