Mon père, mon ami
This hand, it shakes
For it longs to be held
This heart, it aches
For in the darkness, I sit alone
These eyes, they are blind
For my soul has begun to fade….
My father was a good man. Strong and steady. As a small child I saw him as a giant among the trees. Ever present, ever abiding. He was the very best of my world. My father gave me joy, laughter, wiped my tears, forgave. As I grew older he became the ephemeral sense of normalcy and a glance of what was. When I went from child to mother, he was the man who loved my son, who taught him to ride. When he grew old, he was the slow fading daylight…
My father was an artist, much like myself. He was a carpenter, painter. My father loved the world around him. The stars, the mountains. He loved calligraphy and use to sit and sketch with me. He created things that were useful, things that were cherished. I imagine that what he created in this world is also what he most longed to feel himself. I remember how much he loved to laugh, and in every way wanted us all to laugh with him. I have yet to meet a man with his work ethic, or his desire to help bring dignity to those no longer able. He saw the worst of humanity and chose to bear the burden of its emotional cost with bravery, but alone.
My father died in a hospital, family by his side. My brother called me to let me say goodbye, holding the phone to my fathers ear. I said a prayer with my father, and he let out a sigh. (In my heart I tell myself that he heard me, and more importantly…God heard him.) I tell myself that he knows it’s me. Like any good daughter I told him I was going to be okay, that I could do it without him, that he could go. Knowing he was suffering, in extreme pain, made his death acceptable, but far from easy. He had died of renal failure, complications after a partial leg amputation…which was secondary to end stage alcoholism.
I continually rehearse in my mind what I will tell my children as the anniversary of his death approaches. (He was never to meet our two youngest.) They hadn’t seen him for several years prior to his passing. The last visit we’d had with him was just too much.
We arrived in the morning, after driving the last 600+ miles, with three kids, our daughter was just starting to walk. We went inside. I wanted to let her roam around on her own, and dads house was less cluttered than most. We walked into the kitchen and I heard this popping, grinding sound beneath the soles of my shoes. I let my daughters feet touch the floor, and looked at what I thought was rice. Maggots. Maggots covered the kitchen floor. Trash piled into corners. Mold and vomit everywhere. The short of it is that my father could care for himself no more than a dog could let itself out to piss. I was livid. As l looked at my father, wasted away, no longer strong and steady, I was broken. I was angry and had a desire for vengeance well up into my throat. I turned to my husband. He knew. He saw it. I remember wondering if he heard my heart breaking.
That night my husband did the one thing for me that means more than all the rest of it. He picked up my father, holding him as if he were a child that was sleeping soundly. My husband carried my father to his bed, and with such love, such tenderness, laid him down, tucking him in. He made sure his legs were just so, body just so, blankets just so. Kissing him goodnight I asked if he needed anything, then I spent all night cleaning, scrubbing, bleaching, repeating until the filth was all gone. I scrubbed until the tears stopped falling, the anger became sadness, sadness to understanding.
In the morning I kissed him on his cheek, and on his forehead. His eyes…so sad, so hollow. I told him I loved his so very much. We drove away and I knew, I knew I would never see him alive again. I lived too far for weekend or even monthly visits, and for the sake of my family, and for the way my father deserved to be remembered, I chose to shield my children from the disease that had taken their grandpa. My heart couldn’t bear for them to see it ever again.
I miss the father of my childhood. I long for the days of watching him prune his flowers, mow, paint. I miss the steady arms, the voice over the phone. I miss hearing him call me ‘honey’ and chatting about the weather. I miss the man that died long before his body figured out he was gone. I prayed for years that he would stop drinking, and he did. For a short while, because he was in a hospital bed, he was sober. He was different. Frail, broken, reserved…but he wasn’t drunk.
I had let go of the anger I felt toward him long before he died. I learned not to take it personally when he would call me up cussing at me, sometimes thinking I was someone else. I do blame people, but not him. I use to blame myself for not doing more, not calling enough, not moving home. I blame the people that bought his fucking vodka. I blame the people that chose his money over his beating heart. I blame the people that set his bottle next to his chair…because he could no longer make it to the kitchen on his own. The chair he pissed and shit in…alone. And yes, I know it was a choice, but there was a line that blurred and it became a disease. It may have taken him, but it does not define him.
And so, as every anniversary draws near, I gaze into the mirror, and remind myself that my pain is for selfish things, that my fathers love doesn’t die with him, and that my children will know the very best of him. I raise my children with love and admiration for my dad, as well as the understanding that his death was preventable. They know the costs and don’t want to pay.
Even in the midst of loss I have learned. And as I look at the stars, I am reminded of all the love he gave, and cherish that little bit of heaven.