Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Getting (more) Real - Seven Years Ago This Month

And speaking of warts ...

I'm being pulled to write this post, not from any external source, but the more I pray about it, pointing out to God that I use this blog for flippancy, the stronger the feeling that I need to write this post. So I'm writing this post.

Seven years ago tomorrow, we said goodbye to my father. He wasn't sick, or overweight, he didn't have high blood pressure, he was on no medications. He was 66, and he just dropped dead. It was a lovely funeral - and I managed to recite Tennyson's Crossing The Bar without breaking down. I had memorized it years before, planning to recite it at my grandfather's funeral, but my father's funeral came first. It was, in a strange and redeeming way, a good day. The five days leading up to that? Not so good.

Here's a poem.

Wednesday Morning

giggling with my daughter over Cheerios
counting chickadees and flickers through the kitchen window
the phone rings and my mother's quiet voice
shrieks the morning to shreds
paramedics no pulse heart attack widow

how do you go to a death?
what do you pack?
call your brother, my husband says
Dad can call him tonight, I argue
he dials the number hands me the phone

high above the prairies
my brother and I trade toneless cliches
at least he didn't have to suffer
he's in a better place now

I search my parents' house for some hint of him
a scent of his breath
a clue as to how the unthinkable could happen
find nothing but my mother's lap
soaked with my grief

so much crying so many people
bearing food
come to feed on our grief
Thank God for support, my mother says
Is there anything to eat?
I'll never eat lasagne again

I slip into his office, rest
my fingers on his keyboard


That's pretty much how it was, except I left out the part where I acted abominably. My mother called and asked me to pray. Said there were paramedics working on my father in the living room.

"Doing what?", I asked, with the world's most skeptical voice.

"He has no pulse", she said, as gently as possible.

I believe my exact next words were "What do you mean, HE HAS NO PULSE? This is my FATHER you are talking about!"

One of us hung up right after that, because clearly, the conversation was getting us nowhere.

She called back, or I did, several minutes later. I was even more obnoxious, if that's possible. The only sentence I remember from that phone call is where she said "It's just so weird - one minute I'm married, the next I'm a widow." I interrupted her.

"You can't make me talk about that!"

And then I hung up. On a purely visceral level, I realized later, I was making a choice between "my father is dead" and "my mother is over-reacting". (because, as you know, it's so easy to over-react to "we can't find a pulse.")

My husband was working from home that morning. He came outside to where I was screaming and throwing lawn chairs around the back yard, in my nightgown, in the middle of February, and made me come inside. He pointed out to me that my brother needed to know, and I was the only one who knew his cell phone number. I walked away from him. "Dad can call him tonight when this is all over", I said. He followed me with the phone in his hand, compassion written all over his face, and just stood there holding the phone out.

I finally dialled the number. My brother answered, instantly on the alert because I was calling him at work. I rolled my eyes and spat out "Mom thinks Dad just died!" My brother took a few breaths and then asked to speak to my husband.

Somehow we ended up on a plane. I believe my husband started the shower and stood me in it and dressed me afterwards. And packed for me. And drove me to the airport and I don't remember any of it. I remember looking into A's face, (she was three at the time) and thinking "How can I be anyone's mother in this state????"

And we landed in Winnipeg and it was two years before I stopped hating that airport. My brother's friend had come to drive us out to Mom and Dad's - I was dreading that drive. I don't know R very well, and I was so raw I couldn't imagine spending an hour making small talk. I stood as far away from everyone as I could, waiting for my luggage, and the first of the incredible moments of comfort that God sends in our grief happened.

I looked down the terminal and saw someone running towards me, in a desperate hurry, afraid she'd missed me - my husband's sister, who is one of my closest friends. There is no way I can describe the relief I felt. I collapsed into her soft green winter coat and sobbed and sobbed. She drove me out to my parents' house and stayed until I could stand to let her out of my sight.

I'll never forget that, H - you know that. You came because you couldn't stand not to come to me then - you had no idea what I'd need or even if you could do anything for me, but you came. And you came with tears streaming down your face.

To everyone else reading this: this is what God does for us. For whatever reason, when He can't, or won't, take the hard things away, He sends comfort. There is always comfort. We need to teach ourselves to look for it.


Kassi said...

I love it so much when you write from the heart, the serious stuff, the real stuff, not so much the flippant stuff. It's the you I first got to know, and the you I still appreciate the most.

ccap said...

Wow. I have a very vivid memory of a hug from that very same person when MY dad died. What a beautiful/sad/moving post.

Heather said...

Oh my, ya coulda warned me I'd be weeping by the end of this! I come here looking for flippant at the end of the day, and you throw THIS at me. Yeesh. Sputter. Sputter. Sob.

Can't imagine what else I could have done, knowing you were flying across the country to greet death. Glad I dropped whatever else was less important to be one of your "moments of comfort".

Just wish I hadn't had to join your "daughters without fathers" club quite so soon. :-(

Dwight said...

And the night I phoned around the news about Lorna's cancer she's the one who cried with me over the phone. I'll never forget that either...

Don't quit with the light-hearted stuff, I love it, but don't quit with the painful, honest ones either. We need those too.

We love you and remember that sad day along with you.

gkgirl said...


i didn't expect to cry.
but cry
i definately did...
i don't even know what to say...

and that poem...

and i'm sorry for your loss

Darlene and Mike said...

Powerful writing. I'm another daughter without a father for going on 5 years. Shed tears with you, too, reading this. God bless.

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Beccy said...

I've just come over from Heather. This is the most touching post I have read and moved me to tears.