Looking back after five years.
When my dad started the rapid decline into the terminal stages of his cancer, his brother told me something that I haven’t forgotten. He said, “I hate to say this, but I think it is important. It is likely that you will remember these times with your dad more than any others. That’s what happens when you care for someone who is dying.” I didn’t accept it at the time, and still haven’t for five years. There is something about it that sounds too simple, too pulled-apart. But I ponder the notion often, and have even edited it to what I believe is more fitting and appropriate under such circumstances. I’d have given him some credit if he’d said, “When someone dies, we often remember the most sensational times we had with that person---good or bad.”
Truth is, I’d hate to give him any credit at all, but I’m not sure why. He came to town a week before my dad died (not because he hadn’t wanted to come earlier, but because my dad hadn’t wanted to see him) and herded us up like cattle---put my dad in a suit that hung off of him like a garbage bag---and made us go to church. He was concerned about my dad’s relationship with Christ, and I think that it allowed him some sense of relief to have done his part in facilitating my dad’s transition into the beyond. I remember walking behind my dad as we searched for a pew that could accommodate all six of us. He sort of hobbled along embarrassingly and I could tell that people were purposefully avoiding looking in our direction for fear that their curiosity would be misinterpreted.
When he did die, on March 30, 2003, I took a gigantic swig of his liquid morphine and sat next to him on the bed until the funeral home came to take his body. We knew it had been coming for some time, his breathing was so slow and shallow and his skin had become translucent and papery, and those final nights (and really days, too) were unbearable. He was 47, nine years older than B is this year. He was cremated, and I went to the funeral home to pick up his ashes (which, strangely enough, came in two boxes and were very heavy). Sometime later, we decided to spread his ashes in the creek behind my grandparents’ house in Savannah. Again, it was me (?). When I opened the bag, the wind blew bits of bone and ash back into my face. I still can’t decide whether that was comedic or traumatizing.
I remember a lot of things about my dad. When I had a major surgery during my teenage years, my head the size of a basketball and drool oozing out the corners of my mouth, he was transformed into this nurturing caregiver who sat with me for long hours in silence in front of our Christmas tree. Way, way back, he broke his arm while riding downhill on a skateboard through our neighborhood streets (in Jams). For a couple of years, he had this huge sky blue convertible Eldorado-ish thing that he used to entertain us and our friends. We would drive around and pick them up and then cruise through the streets and over big hills while we listened to and soaked up his favorite music.