Amy and Maya at The Creativity Caravan partnered with Apryl of the Halfway There reading series to present Readings on Grieving. Seven local writers presented pieces centered around grief and letting go. What follows is the piece I read for the event.
The Death of My Father
My father died on a street in Camden, Maine. We were walking up a hill and he stopped, again and again, waving his grandchildren ahead. “Don’t wait for me. I’ll be there soon.” Shallow breaths forced him to lean heavily on the stone wall, my mother hovering nervously at his side.
My father died in a hospital bed after a heart attack. There were dozens of dangers and warnings and maybes and precautions before he could be put under anesthesia for a common and simple procedure. I smiled and waved off the dangers and said we’d see him in recovery. But we all knew, he knew especially, that he might not make it to recovery. He said he wanted The Battle Hymn of the Republic played at his funeral. We laughed, and then we made mental notes. Just in case.
My father died in church, unable to stand or sing or pray out loud. I sang a little louder and held his hand, but the notes were off and my throat felt sore. His voice had always been in tune and powerful and filled with the belief I no longer had.
My father died in the specialist’s office, sitting between my mother and me, one hand on the ever-present oxygen tank. The pulmonologist killed him with her gentle but firm words, “Your fibrosis won’t respond to this treatment.” That was the moment he gave up on trying to fight off death.
My father died falling out of bed. He hit his head and hurt his body and bruised his pride on the way down. He never left the bed after that. He was more afraid of falling once more than lying in bed forever.
My father died hearing my mother and me snap and argue and gripe at each other over what was best for him. “Please be patient with your mother, Kristin,” he pleaded. I tried. I couldn’t do it well enough. Not even for the weekends. Not even for him.
My father died in hospice, two hundred miles away, whispering “I love you, too” as my mother held the phone to his mouth. Sitting in my car outside my children’s school, I flooded his ear with as many of the ways his grandchildren loved him and how lucky they were to have him for as long as they did and how they’d always remember him as strong and loving and vital and necessary. He knew “they” really meant me.
My father died when I hung up the phone, releasing the sobs that I’d tried so hard to hold back during the call. I cried because I wasn’t with him and because others were. I cried because I hadn’t said enough. I cried because the inevitable was so near. I cried because my father had been dying for so very long. I cried because he was ready. I cried because I was not.
My father died after many almosts and close-calls during two decades of stolen years in which he raised children to adulthood, married off two daughters, eventually retired, and met and loved his grandchildren. And was so loved in return.
Years later, in surprising and sudden bursts, I still weep when I hear his favorite songs and know he’d like to sing them once more. Years from now, I will still sing a little louder for him, off pitch and with joy.