I keep hoping that something wonderful will happen that might change the way I look at this day.
I buy scratch offs; not a regular thing for me, but there is a chance that this could become the day I win a bunch of money. I hope someone close to me will choose it as their wedding date, so I can remember today as their anniversary. If I get pregnant again, maybe we’ll try to conceive in September and aim for a June baby–maybe the timing will work out just right.
But, until something joyful happens to offset it, I will always remember today as the day that my Dad died.
It’s been three years, and it still hurts.
It’s a different kind of pain now. The edges have started to wear smooth as time washes over them. I’ve tried to recast a net of good memories over the sad ones.
My faith gets me through most of it; I believe he is in heaven (whatever that really means) with all his questions answered, and the pain of his cancer and this life erased. I picture him at peace with God’s love for him. Finally and irrevocably reconciled. I picture him walking hand in hand with the son he lost and never stopped grieving. I picture him surrounded by the others who went before him. I picture him–happy.
The week before he died, we got into a pretty big argument about demon slut (the step-mother). I’m not sure I’ll ever forgive her, because in my mind, she stole his last good days from me. It was a couple of days before Father’s Day, and our disagreement escalated to the point where he suggested, gently, that I go home for the weekend and regroup. There were too many guns around, and I needed to let my rage toward this woman dissipate.
The last conversation we had, he reminded me that I needed to keep my cool in these situations, and not let my emotions get the best of me. I apologized, and told him how much I loved him, hugged him tight, and left to spend the weekend at home.
He took a bad turn while I was away, and by the time I got back, he could no longer speak. I showed up with a card for him, and the DVD set of Lonesome Dove. He loved that movie–he used to make us watch it every time it came on. I would have gladly traded 384 minutes of this western for the live stream of Fox News blaring at full volume–the usual soundtrack in his home. He never opened the gifts, and I can never get that last Father’s Day with him back.
Even though he could no longer speak, he was still there, but he could only respond with facial expressions and by raising his eyebrows. I think that was the first time he really allowed it to enter his mind that he was dying. He would not allow us to speak of the possibility that he might not survive the cancer.
There was so much left unsaid, and I could see it all in his face. Maybe I was imagining it, but I don’t think so.
There are signs that death is coming. Anyone who has ever watched someone decline in hospice care is probably familiar with them. The feet and ankles swell, and their extremities go cold. The skin on the hands and feet will show signs of mottling–blue spots appear that look like bruises. They show signs of restlessness and agitation. My Dad picked at his sheets like there were ants crawling on him. They hallucinate–he was smiling and waving off into the distance. That was comforting to me. You can say it was the morphine, but I believe our loved ones are there to help us cross over and welcome us home. I’ll always wonder who he saw in those moments–I’d never seen that kind of joy and peace on his face before. Their breathing slows, and the jaw will go slack.
That is the strongest memory I have of how he looked after his death. His mouth was wide open and gaping like he was still gasping for air; I tried to close it after, but his jaw would not stay shut. I kissed his forehead as I said goodbye for the last time and my tears fell on him. He was so gaunt that the chemo port stood prominently on his chest–it looked painful and foreign, and it had become a marker of his weight loss to me. I remember when they placed it after his diagnosis. They asked him if he was right-handed or left-handed so that they could place the port opposite of his gun shooting shoulder. No joke. That’s how deep in the heart of Texas we were.
I was not in the room when he died. I’ve watched it before, and I just couldn’t face it again. He was surrounded by his loved ones. My brother played his favorite hymns on the keyboard, and the family sang to him. His cousin held his hand. She’s the one who noticed that he had slipped away. It felt morbid to me to stand there in a circle staring at him, just waiting for death. I’d seen almost every moment of his decline; he wasted away for nine months from the strong man I always knew into the skeleton that lay in the bed at the end.
Demon slut was outside too along with a few other family members. When they came out to tell us, she ran off into the woods. I briefly wished that she would step on a rattlesnake.
I did not go after her, but someone did eventually.
I didn’t have the patience for her drama or her grief. It was fake and used to manipulate others. I know this because of her behavior in the year after his death. She also waited until she had a sympathetic audience, went inside, and threw herself on his body, beating on his chest and screaming, “Why did you leave me?”
I stood watching her in shock and disgust.
The hospice nurse had mentioned that people from her culture grieved differently than we do here in the United States, but I still couldn’t stand by and watch her punch my Dad. I’ve never felt rage like that; I’ve never really wanted to physically hurt someone before, but I wanted to hurt her in that moment. I wanted to break her nose and watch her bleed.
But, I remembered my Dad’s words about keeping my emotions in check. I walked over to her calmly. I pulled her off of him, into a hug that was anything but comforting. I concentrated all my anger into this hug, and quietly told her, “Please respect the type of man he was, and stop doing what you are doing right now. I know you are hurting, but he would not have wanted this kind of display. You know that.” She got the message.
And by some miracle, she stopped.
It took about three hours for them to get out to the ranch to collect his body. I dealt with it the way I used to deal with all of my pain–by getting very, very drunk.
I remember standing in the front yard as they wheeled him away. I was standing in a pile of fire ants. They were pissed, and left angry red welts between my toes and on the top of my feet, but I didn’t feel the bites until the next morning.
If I could have stayed suspended in that moment when you first wake up, and have forgotten, I would have. But the memory always invades and steals away those brief moments of peace. The blisters on my feet pulsed with the reminder, “He’s gone. It’s over. Time to eat bad casserole, hug lots of people you don’t remember, and make funeral arrangements.”
It’s always the same.
My husband held me that night, and he says I was talking in my sleep. I remember the dream I had, or maybe it wasn’t a dream. Dad was standing in front of me saying goodbye. I told him I was sorry, and that I loved him. We laughed about something–I imagine that I asked him if I stayed calm enough while she was punching him. I told him we would sure miss him. And then he was gone.
I wanted to make this post a tribute of good memories, but this pain is still so raw. I wish I could do it over again. I wish I didn’t have so many regrets surrounding his final days.
I selfishly wish he was still here so I could be a better daughter to him.
I still wish I could break demon slut’s nose, but it is enough that I will probably never see her again. She’s off ruining someone else’s family now.
Bitterness toward her won’t bring him back, and I hope some day I can truly forgive her.
I haven’t yet, but I suppose it could still happen.
“No time for better words, no time to unsay anything…So, the last, spoiled embrace. Those are happy who have no such in their memory. For those who have–would they endure that I should write of it? C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces.
My apologies for the grief post. I’ve never written about this before, and I may take it down later.
For anyone who has ever lost someone close to them, know that you are not alone.
It does get easier, but the pain never really goes away.