(A few pics I love of my dad. Top one: he and my mom with Mike and I shortly after our wedding ceremony. Bottom two: my dad with my sister Shannon [who developed alopecia just like he did] and with my sister Megan when she was able to be sealed to her husband. [That expression. I can’t stop looking at it. It’s . . . how he felt about us. Proud and pleased and . . . every good thing. I love that look. I almost feel like he’s actually here looking at me when I stare at it.])
A little over a year ago we were in the thick of my dad dying. Of course we didn't know that. Or we did. Depending on the hour. Every day, a hundred times a day, for three weeks . . . he was getting better or he was dying. One of those two. And often when I cry now it is not because I miss him (though I do, but missing, it turns out, is the least complex emotion I have the luxury of feeling), but because some neuron has fired and the curtains have opened on a specific moment from those three weeks acting itself out in my mind.
Death has its beauty. And certain moments from his passing were no exception -- the time he asked if Mike would be here to take care of me, the time he told my mom he felt “strangely, very good about things”, and the time I furiously wrote down every word he said as I witnessed him seeing beyond my own veil-covered eyes: "We're being approached by some of our family. Can you see something? There's so much there! Look at that. Multitudes!" And there was the time I sat and listened to him pray. He didn't know I was there of course (though I'd been holding his hand and speaking to him for half an hour), but he spoke with God – out loud and so intimately that I felt like an intruder. Still, I didn't leave. I hung on every word as he told his Heavenly Father that he hadn't anticipated such an overwhelming challenge, that he didn't say that to excuse himself, only . . . he needed help to overcome such "unique opposition", help so that he could “go forth with hope and light and kindness”. Over and over again he spoke of going forth. Again and again, as he walked -- quite literally --through the valley of the shadow of death, he repeated his commitment to hope and kindness.
(My parents with Goldie, Abe and Daisy on a Memorial Day visit to the cemetery.)
But death is heavy too, and, until it was my dad, I hadn’t realized how complicated both the emotions and the actual process could be (I’d simplified it ridiculously for dozens of others). It was complicated for all of us; my dad – who did not “go gentle into that good night” -- perhaps most of all.
One time, when he was finally calm and still; when his mind had quit unwinding itself through the entirety of his life (he was running about the old college campus with his sisters Nan [Joan] and Pen, he was in the military in Japan, seeing my mom that first Sunday back home in that yellow dress and hearing her, "Welcome home stranger.", he was fishing by Rainbow Gardens with my brothers, lassoing that duck at Pine View, and teaching class after class at Weber State); and when finally his terrible nightmares had ceased (the ones that waking wouldn't relieve him from); and when he'd at last quit falling and falling (no amount of holding him tight or reassuring him could ever stop him from falling, except, on occasion, Chris -- the fifth of my six brothers -- telling him that he had him in his "strong arms" and wasn't letting go [I don't know how many times Chris left work because my dad was falling]); one time, after all those things, when finally he was quiet and still (a state that filled me with a terrible, convoluted mixture of relief and sorrow), Chris and I sat with my mom by his bedside talking about the battle he had just been through. My mom said it could have been so much worse -- had the Parkinson's claimed him rather than this unexpected other end -- it could have been so much worse. And Chris replied, "Yes, well, things can always be worse, but let's not rob him of what he's overcome and the experience he's just been through."
And perhaps it’s that fear of robbing him -- or me, or any of us really – that has kept me from writing anything more than beginning paragraphs (so many beginning paragraphs). “I can’t get down the enormity of what this experience was.” “There are too many things to write and I can’t combine them all properly.” “I don’t even understand my thoughts about his death.” “I don’t know what things are mine to share.” All those thoughts have made a hundred attempts to write about it end in frustration and the computerized version of crumpled papers strewn about my feet. But I suppose it isn’t such a ridiculous thing that it might take me multiple entries to get it right. I suppose it’s OK if I don’t ever get it right. (There probably isn’t a right.) And it’s probably fair to assume I will see and write about it differently as my perspective shifts and changes with time. So for now, this. No perfect complete write-up, a thousand parts left out, but something.