Sunday, March 22, 2009
By the time I post this, I'll have known of Dad's death for twenty-four hours. It's been such a surreal day: I kept thinking, "What was he doing twenty-four hours ago? What was I doing?" Approaching 7:00, when he died, I became more and more restless, and finally hit on a ritual that calmed me. A little before seven, I lit a candle, started playing "Lark Ascending," one of his favorite pieces of music, and wrote in my journal. The entry turned into a letter to him about how much I miss him. The music and the writing carried me safely past the moment of his death, as well as the moment when hospice tried to reach me and couldn't. Writing this blog post will carry me past the moment when I arrived at the nursing home and found him, and then realized what had happened.
Last night I fired off a lot of e-mails to friends, and my inbox has been flooded with wonderful condolence notes today. I know I need to answer all of them (Emily Post, iirc, points out that this is one of the activities that carries us through grief), but today I didn't have the energy.
I should also answer each of the seventeen comments blog readers left me today, but I hope you'll all forgive me if I respond with a blanket "thank you." Each comment meant a great deal to me; I cherish all of them. So please consider that written seventeen times in response to each of your notes!
I slept horribly last night -- very predictably, I know -- and got up this morning feeling like I was underwater. I've had periodic crying spells through the day, which has dragged very heavily. Gary tells me that time moved more slowly after his own father died, and that's true for me now, too.
I've been on the phone with my sister almost every hour, and I've spoken to my mother and to various friends. My friend Katharine is canceling appointments of her own tomorrow to drive me around to the funeral parlor, the bank, the nursing home, the VA hospital, and so forth. If there's time, we're going to shop for yarn, and on Thursday evening, we're definitely getting together to knit. She said I should bring Dad's favorite music so we can listen to it.
My friend and colleague Chris, who'll be covering some of my classes this week, came over so I could brief him on lesson plans, and also shared some of his own experience from losing his first wife to cancer ten years ago. He told me the best way to deal with regret: by realizing that if we'd done the thing we regret not doing, we'd only regret something else we hadn't done.
I've had many regrets today: for things Dad didn't get to do, for things I think I could have handled better, and most of all for the fact that I wasn't there when Dad died. I wanted to be. I told Dad I wanted to be. He had other ideas. Everyone I've talked to thinks that he left when he did so I wouldn't see him die, but even if he was sparing me, I'm angry, because I didn't want to be spared, and I'm not really spared at all anyway, and how could he not know that?
The hardest part about last night wasn't seeing him lying dead, because he was peaceful and looked like he was sleeping. The hardest part was when the undertaker came and -- after gently asking me if I'd had enough time with Dad -- picked up Dad's body to move it to the gurney. Before that, he'd looked like my father, but when his limbs started flopping around and his head lolled to the side, he was no longer my father, but a husk. Maybe it's good I saw that; maybe it's closure. I don't know. The undertaker carefully arranged Dad on the gurney and wrapped a sheet around him. Before covering Dad's face, he said -- gently again -- "Are you okay with this?" I said I was; I thought I was, but when the sheet went over Dad's face, I started crying again. My father had turned from a person into a package. I kept crying while the package was zipped into a plastic body bag and wheeled out the door, but again, I'm glad I saw all that. I just wish I'd gotten to see the moment that led to it. I'm glad the nurses were there and could describe it to me.
Dad's donating his body to the medical school, so I know that more people will have the chance to learn about and benefit from his life. Every year the medical school has a memorial service for donor families, and the students read pieces they've written about their cadavers. I've heard it's incredibly moving, but only families are invited, so I've never attended one. Next year or the year after, I'll be able to do that. The medical students who learn from my father will, in a strange way, know him better than anyone in Reno except me and Gary, because he didn't have time to make friends here.
Sometime this week, my sister and I will work on an obituary over phone and e-mail. She can't come out here because she's taking care of Mom; there wouldn't be much for her to do, anyway. Instead of a funeral, we'll have an informal memorial service with Dad's close friends in Mississippi, but that won't happen until this summer at the earliest.
As sad as Liz and I are right now, we're glad we can concentrate more fully on Mom.
My uncle (Mom's brother) called today, and I had a nice long talk with him. And someone from Dad's assisted-living facility called. She told me that she wishes all the residents' families were more like me. "You were your father's best and strongest advocate, and he knew it. There's very little more you could have done for him."
That was good to hear, but of course I'm still haunted by what "very little more" I could have done, and whether it would have made any difference. I'll never know in this life, most likely, although I've been half-praying for a sign -- or something I can interpret as a sign -- that Dad's happy somewhere now. I asked my sister to share any dreams she has about Dad, and promised to do the same.
Twenty-four hours ago, I'd known for fifteen minutes that he was dead. There. I'm past the first day.
I've been wearing his watch -- ludicrously huge on my wrist -- since last night, and I'm wearing his favorite shirt-jacket, too, a fuzzy plaid thing that makes me look like a scarecrow, but makes me feel wrapped in warmth. Tomorrow, probably, Gary and I will start packing up his apartment. There are some things of his I know I want, and others my sister wants.
My sister sent me a lot of great photos of him. I'll post them sometime, but not tonight.
Peace be to you all.