Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Defining Moments

I didn’t record all the first week’s strange impressions, didn’t document my grief the way I wanted to. I know I slept in one of Dad’s blue t-shirts, big enough to drown me. I know I counted myself lucky to have gotten to know him better these last few years, maybe even to have helped distract him from what must have been a somewhat frustrating existence. To a man with such an active mind and body, limited vision and mobility must have been nearly unbearable, but he bore it the best he knew how, even overcame it. I guess to some extent we had to watch him slowly decline, but not in unendurable ways. He still fixed us with those blue eyes, still argued, advised, still laughed, still went with us on roadtrips until just lately when it got too hard. He could sometimes be incredibly silly. Remember the trick ketchup bottle? He loved that game, loved the look of horror on peoples' faces as the harmless red string shot out onto their clothes. He was still well over 6 feet and 300 lbs. when Mom’s cousin Dale came from Rock Springs in the massive red Suburban to take his body away. (Sobbing, we joked it was a good thing they didn’t come in a Ford Expedition; Dad would have gotten out and walked.)

So we didn’t have to see him waste away, which would have been the worst with such a towering man. Strong, tall, straight Dad, who could lift Caprice Classics, pound hubcaps on with his bare fists, pull dents out of the thick steel of Buick fenders as if he were smoothing fabric. And yet he looked strangely small on the king bed he and mom shared, where he lay down on his back for what he thought would be just a while, small and utterly peaceful. White on blue on white, pale skin and hair, barely blue lips and dark blue clothes on Mom’s white matelassé coverlet. Head tilted just so, ankles crossed, skin-and-bone hand on his belly with Grandpa’s big gold ring on the long ring finger. He didn’t even get to wear it a whole year. We couldn’t take it off, and Dale said he’d keep it for us. His hands were no more stiff and cold than they’d been when he was alive (Parkinson’s), and it wasn’t horrible at all to touch them, or his cool, dry forehead with the soft waves of white hair, or his cheek with the familiar bristly stubble. He was such a big, handsome guy. I wanted to see the sharp blue eyes again, but they were closed forever. I wanted him to wake up and tell me not to buy a Chrysler, but I'll just have to remember the rules. He still smelled faintly of Head and Shoulders shampoo, Vitalis hair oil, cinnamon Close-up toothpaste, but that might have been me imagining. When they got him loaded on the gurney into the back and we’d said a last goodbye and thank you and I love you and they drove away, I wanted to run after the Suburban. I even watched it until it drove out of sight on the highway behind the fire station, but instead of chasing it I stared down through my tears at the tracks its tires left in the brown winter grass. I think I was holding somebody’s hand. I was probably holding it too tightly.


Dad would scoff if we let ourselves be submerged in grief, so none of us have. I dove into work this week, and with customary kindness and purpose the boys kept me busy. I’ve even achieved my patented and trademarked level of extreme exhaustion, which I call “Running on Fumes.” Putting a surprise memorial service on in less than a week is no small task, but even so, I think we’re on the right track. I had fun reading entries on an Internet newsgroup board about what music people want played at their funeral. Pearl Jam’s Off He Goes. Goodbye, Goodbye by Oingo Boingo. I didn’t get the joke behind Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go, but I thought Wish You Were Here was a great idea. We settled on Each Life that Touches Ours for Good, What a Wonderful World (I wish, wish, wish Willie Nelson would come sing it for us), and My Way, because even though you may think you’ve seen it performed at a funeral for someone it fit just right, that was Dad’s theme song and nobody else’s. Except Frank’s. Anyway we have a strange batch of family to please, so that’s the mix. We got our way with the “casket” though, because he was cremated and yesterday I went to Cazin's and got a $16.00 plain red metal toolbox to hold the big container of ashes. (He’d haunt me if I spent more than that, I swear. I get my thrift from Dad.) I’m wondering how strange people are going to think that is, but believe me, everybody who knew him thinks Mom’s idea is just grand. It’s not every day you see somebody buried in a toolbox… but it’s not every day you meet a car guy like Dad. I wonder what he would have though of all these proceedings; you just never knew how he was going to react to things. I sleep well at night (when I finally go to bed) knowing, if anything, that he’d be glad to indulge us. He was always that way with his girls.

2 Comments:

Blogger Libby said...

So sorry to hear about your Dad. You have such insight. Hang in there. I've been there and definitely can relate to what you are going through right now.

http://tellmewhereitsat.blogspot.com

April 22, 2005 at 7:36 AM  
Blogger Generick Ink Publishing said...

You have my sympathy. It sounds like you had a great dad and I'm sorry for your loss.

http://genericpoetry.blogspot.com/

April 23, 2005 at 2:30 AM  

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