Sunday, June 17, 2007
The man I've known longest in my life~
It's Father's Day. Fathers are important. I've learned that even when they're dead and buried, they really aren't gone. Mine isn't anyway.
Happy Father's Day, Dad.
The call from the nursing home jolted me awake at 3:19 on a snowy Sunday morning. Pearl Harbor Day, December 7, 2003. I knew before answering that my father had died.
“Is this Ruth?” The voice was soft.
“Yes,” I said bracing myself.
“Ruth, your father passed away a few minutes ago.”
This call was not unexpected, but still I froze into silence, listening to the wind and whipping snow outside.
I needed to be led through the process by experts familiar with wrapping a lifetime into a public package for the wake, the funeral, the burial . . .
“What’s the next step?”
“Well, with the storm, the undertaker won’t be able to get here for awhile, so you needn’t rush over.”
But of course there would be no curling back into sleep’s warm cocoon. My husband got up with me, and made coffee. We drank it in the dim kitchen as chilled in body as we were in spirit.
Grey dawn filtered through the curtain of falling snow as I drove twenty miles of back roads to the nursing home to say goodbye to my father’s body. I had already said good-bye to the real man.
It was quiet. The machines at the hospital had not followed him here to die. I hadn’t cried yet, nor did I feel like it. Yet. We were not a physically demonstrative family, though we loved deeply. I stood at the foot of his bed and looked at the man I had known longest in my life.
He lay on his back in the same position I had last seen him- eyes shut, mouth open. sparse grey hair smooth as if it had been combed, a bruise where his IV had been. So skinny, so white. I could see another daughter stroking her father’s hand, but I couldn’t. I could see her smooth his hair, but I stood still.
But I talked to him from my mind. Oh, Dad, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I love you Dad. We’ll miss you. Don’t worry about Mom. We’ll take care of her. Bye Dad. I kissed him lightly on his cool forehead.
I wanted to speak at his simple Congregational funeral. I knew it would be hard, so I wrote a short good-bye that the minister ended up reading for me while I sat muffling sobs, catching the tears that weren't to be denied in a shredded Klennix. I held my mother's hand; my husband held my other. I felt the hands of my children who were seated in the pew behind me patting my shoulders, giving little squeezes of support.
My father used to hold my hand when I was little. We'd walk along, father and daughter, and he'd give my hand a squeeze and I'd match it with a squeeze of my own. Then he'd squeeze twice and I'd match it with two of mine.
A father's love is not forgotten.