My father died in this house. So did my mother.
The one I am sitting in now, writing this.
My father almost exactly three years ago.
For months before his death, I’d been back and forth seamlessly to sit with and mark time. Some of the easiest moments of our relationship.
The body is an intricate system. One major organ fails, they all fall in line. Solidarity. Harmony. Comprehensive betrayal.
The call from my blood sister came when I was at dinner with my sisterhood.
The “come now” bat signal, but somehow I waited until morning.
Do we all have them — moments in our lives where we look back and say, “why in the world did I do that?”
In fact, I know a little bit about the brain and those “whys” but they still leave a grit that skins my emotional knuckles every time I go over it. Imperfect decision making.
I didn’t get straight in the car. I did not pass go. I did not collect two hundred dollars.
I hugged my team with “see you tomorrow,” kisses knowing full well my next day’s script would hold different pages than my evening cheer implied.
I made an early call to my airline. The one who’d already transported me a dozen times. A reliable relationship I needed to pretended meant something more than frequent, inexpensive flights. A fantasy of corporate caring when I needed so much care.
My customer service agent Jannette did care, but there were summer storms up and down the east coast. Clamorous, thunder, and lightning. The kind Zeus would certainly claim as his own if gods were real.
Flight were delayed and delayed and delayed.
The 8 am to Boston already rescheduled to 8 pm. I could try flying into Providence first thing the next day. A full 24 for hours after my sister’s call marked “URGENT.”
I asked Jeanette for her expert advice adding, “my dad is dying.”
“Could you get in a car?”
“Its not that kind of dying…” I’d replied.
Not sudden, desperate, untenable dying. Not wild eyed, exploding heart, and fear beyond all things dying. Not thirteen hours of driving kind of dying.
Nearly every time I’d been with him in the past few months, he’d almost died. I’d snapped a photo of him with my mind, and sometimes with my phone each time I’d left him, knowing nothing was promised (ever, really).
I rode out the storm with my kids at the pool. A bored neighbor sat down near me and began to ramble about present-day life moments.
Listen, I will always chose to be kind if I can.
But there are times when you don’t have the luxury of choice and I begged her to stop talking and then convinced her to leave. Honest to God, I did. I needed every molecule of my energy to survive my own life’s minutes. I could not give an atom to her. I don’t regret it.
When the storms hit, my son’s favorite pounding and drenching kind, we ran to the car soaked. The instant air conditioning chilled us like refrigerated produce. A kind of cold I will never forget.
We drove to the pharmacy and bought hair dye.
It was an end of the year promise nearly logical for the moment.
I spent my father’s last lucid hours dyeing my sons’ hair (and quite a bit of the scalp) lego blue and red polka dots — color that would linger like pigmented grief until December, maybe longer.
Zero dark thirty the next morning I stealthed out to my car with my go-bag.
I drove my memorized route, that in a minute of Hollywood inspiration, decided to use age-old gimmicks to add to the already high-pressure plot:
A newly installed speed camera. Eighty-five dollar ticket to arrive in two weeks, obviously.
The park and ride full. At six am.
The plane also full due to the cancellations. And then delayed a half hour.
In Providence, the new rental car company had no record of my booking.
I have a switch that sits just behind my lungs. A tripwire. The residence of a choice point just where my energy lurks until I lose my cool.
I didn’t need to flip it. I wasn’t going to make it. The universe asking me to yield to what would always be true.
I walked to Dunkin’ Donuts and bought a huge ice coffee I knew I’d drink for no real reason and would necessitate a bathroom stop.
But I was in no longer in rush.
I didn’t even tell the yellow-shirted, apologetic rental clerk (he was so, so sorry. They had a new system. They did have my reservation, after all. Sorry for the inconvenience and the long wait) my dad was dying.
I took a wrong turn out of the airport.
There was no gas in my car (swear). It was pouring.
I drove the speed limit. On the two hour drive I had to pull over twice.
Of course, I missed seeing my father conscious again. He died five hours after I arrived, with my younger brother playing guitar, and my little sister holding his hand, my mother praying.
A death as perfectly imperfect as his life.
I was in the garbage shed on the phone with my older brother when he died. Which was also perfect.
Yeterday, the same older brother came to help in the never ending project that is the dismantling of our parents’ house.
The same older brother who was my first call from an empty, broken down parking lot outside of Boston with the words, “mom died,” clumsily making their first way across the marbles of grief in my mouth.
Yesterday we wore masks and gloves and we couldn’t hug.
There are no movie scenes here. No cue the sunrise moments, despite the breathtaking beauty of this oceanside setting.
These are small, and holy acts of imperfect lives and imperfect loves.
The opening and closing of drawers and cupboards, the folding and packing, and trashing. The weeping, the breathing, and the deep, deep exhaustion and gratitude.
They lived and died here.
This is sacred ground. However I arrived here, I feel them in my marrow. In my breath.
This is father’s day three years out. And it is exactly as it should be.
To all for whom this day may be complicated…Sarah and Susan, Eileen, Robyn, Lindsey, Andrea and all my sibs esp Sheila who is reading this, the names I am forgetting to mention.
And for my husband who is our present moment, who we celebrate every day and is, as my mother always said, “too good for me,” and the best thing that happened to all of us.