Tuesday, March 14, 2006

In Memory of My Father

My father died fourteen years ago today. Not a day goes by that I don't think of him. In the beginning, the first few months after his death, my family dreamed of him in dreams that felt more like visitations. His presence was palpable. If he touched us we could feel the warmth of his hands, if he spoke his voice was as real as it was in life. We wouldn't say, "I dreamed of Dad l last night," we'd say, "Dad visited me last night." It was that vivid. Those dreams helped bridge the time between our broken and our mended hearts.

The last few days of a loved one's life are often full of poignancy. Everything is perceived through the lens of mortality, and is rendered despairingly vivid. Vignettes of love and loss. I remember my brother shaving my father's face, something he could no longer do for himself. I remember my father joking how he still planned to get himself on to the commode, so that my mom or the the kids wouldn't have to assist him. I remember how we played our family version of Jeopardy. The clue: In 1962, third house down on the right. The family had a dog. The Question: Who was Taffy? We recited much of our family history playing that game. We laughed so hard and cried so long. I remember during one of his final moments of lucidity, with his four children, his sister and brother-in-law, and his beloved wife standing around his bed, he looked at us and said, "I can really get you all together, can't I?" I remember that I prepared the last full meal my dad ate, the day before he died. He wanted Chicken Chow Mein, his favorite. He recited the recipe to me. He told me how to cut up the chicken the way he liked it. "Don't do chunks. I don't want chunks. Shred it, okay?" Absolutely, Dad. Any way you want it.

I wrote this poem shortly after he died:

as you crossed the bridge
how much like Munch's Scream you looked
mouth black, opened wide
gasping for air that your aching lungs
had been for hours denied
and yet, you turned your wide eyes on us
and took us in like a delicious breeze
for a moment
a broad candle-lit pumpkin smile
replaced the cavernous gasping
as you looked at me, your daughter
and at Helen, your sister
who sat at your bedside, holding your
delicately-soft fingers
too slender and weak to hold even a
child's spill-proof cup
we wiped your forehead and cheeks
and talked to you
sharing our family's life blood
of joyous loving gossip...
and told you of those who called that day,
the last of your life, just to see.. to see...
but we knew you heard us less and less
as that relentless procession held you in sway,
finally when we could no longer
offer a single respite from the anguish
they came and lifted you upon a stretcher that
promised to take you more gently to the other side
with soothing morphine elixirs and the hum of machines
and there on your last passage from the bedroom
through the living room
to your dying room
you held my hand one last time,
looked so deeply at me,
and managed to mouth the words "I love you,"
without making a sound

For previous remembrances of my sweet father look here, here, and here.
I still love you, Dad.

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