I’ve resisted writing here over the past few days because each time I think about putting the metaphorical pen to the metaphorical page, the subject in mind is grief and loss. This was never meant to be a blog with grief being the primary focus and thus I try to think about posting a picture of the socks I’m currently knitting or recipes for the aromatic Indian food that’s been center stage in our kitchen these past two weeks. I want to write about the garden plans or the house hunting or something more fun.
As much as it might seem so on the blog, my days don’t feel full of sadness. My days are a near snapshot of life before I lost my dad, only with the edges tinged dark and heavy. There is the weighty dread I feel each Wednesday about 10:30am, about the same time I got the call from my aunt. I feel it whether or not I can see a clock, and I’m always within about fifteen minutes of the correct time. It’s eerie and unsettling and leaves me feeling angry and helpless for the entire rest of the day. It’s the only time I want to punch a wall, scream, and beg someone, anyone to have mi papa back. Most days I feel like it was his time, but on Wednesdays I feel like he was taken too soon and it leaves me full of rage.
Thursdays are different. Thursday was the day he actually died, and I feel a much greater sense of peace (but also of sadness) about it all, which surprises me. On Thursdays I think about him a great deal more, and replay the final moments in the hospital room over and over. I think driving up late Wednesday night because I didn’t want him to be alone on his last night alive. I think about sitting by his bedside until 3:30am, trying to unsuccessfully to sleep. I didn’t have much to say, but I didn’t want him to be alone. I would rest my hand softy on his, not wanting to put too much pressure on his grossly swollen skin. I’d readjust the plastic information bracelets so they didn’t cut into his wrists, noting the bright yellow band with the neatly handwritten note, “No defib, No CPR.” I’d steady my voice before I spoke to him because I didn’t want to alarm him. I’d make jokes, like telling him to look away before I took my birth control, since my dad has always had a sense of humor, even when he was in a lot of pain. I think about those last, late, quiet hours we had, just the two of us, before the rest of the family came and brought enough love and grief to fill the space to overflowing. I think about how gentle and thoughtful the nurses were once the decision had been made to let him go.
Eventually I did go down to sleep in the lounge where there things were still and I could stretch out. But then I think about sitting the next morning in his room with Phil doing cross words and asking the nurses questions about the night before. He was clearly deteriorating and I remember telling him he was making the decision so much easier. My aunt and uncle arrived and my aunt stood by his bed, squeezing his hand and quietly crying, saying the old bugger was suppose to wait for her.
Them the nurse told us he had a serious bacterial infection which spreads in weak immune systems. This meant she had to wear a new paper gown each time she entered the room. She set up a large trash can by the door and stocked the door pocket with the bright yellow gowns. There was a lot of rustling and busyness, and the trash can quickly filled. I felt like I was in quarantine.
Finally, all who were coming were assembled and we each took a moment to be with him alone. There was a lot of pacing and crying in the hall. Eventually we all gathered in a tousled semi-circle in the hall and nodded. The nurse said she would take the breathing tube out and we’d be called back in.
As we all shuffled back into the room, he was draped in a nice purple cloth, the breathing tube was out, and his mouth seemed so empty with his dentures at home in Thief River. It went so quick, his heart beat drawing strange irregular designs on the monitor, finally settling into a flat line that hiccuped a few times, and then drew a straight line from there to forever. In a gravely voice with sharp eyes my aunt asked if that was it. The nurse nodded.
I held his hand, no longer afraid squeezing it would cause him discomfort. He still felt so very warm. There were details to be worked out, a funeral home chosen, and finally a few of us headed for out for a beer to toast to the old man.
He had no possessions with him and was sent to the crematorium in only, I’m assuming, his hospital gown. I wish he could have had on real clothes, those meagre coverings seem immodest and inadequate during such a harsh, northern winter. Surely unsuitable for starting his trek into the afterlife. But my dad was a practical man and I’m sure if asked he would have said it was pointless for a perfectly good outfit to be burned into ash.
So I have a basket of his old clothes – mostly denim and flannel – that I hope to turn into a quilt. I haven’t yet been able to take the scissors and cut the useful from the seams, but someday I think it’ll be very cathartic to turn the heap into a useful object.
In a lot of ways the grief feels more painful now than in the days after his death. It’s less sharp, to be sure, I no longer wake up crying and I can tackle most of my daily tasks, but it’s there and it’s heavy. The past few days have been especially tough as I unwitting replay moments in my mind until the tears fall hot and fast. Everything reminds me of him – little kids and old grandpas, acts of kindness and silly jokes, flannel and birds and crafts. I think about all he’s missing – the new president, the late winter thaw, the promise of another gardening season. It’s all starting to feel so permanent, like I never really will get another chance to tell him about a house we looked at or when I’m going back to school. I really will never hear him tell me that he’s, “fine. fine as frog’s hair. So fine you can’t even see it”, or wish me a “Happy Christmas and a Merry Easter.”
Forever, in terms of sadness and loss, is a sharp pill to swallow.
And here I am, a blubbering babbling mess. As I said earlier, the bulk of my days do not feel like this, but sitting down to write brings it all out, putting it to the page so it feels more concrete and less like a bad dream. I know that sunnier days will come, as will creative and thoughtful posts that do not revolve around death. But I suppose I must be patient with myself. This unforgiving heaviness shall pass.