My father’s death is my life. It is my reference point for what bad is. It is a memory that streatchs behind me, always there, always leaving a quiet inner seed of panic, “When will this end too?”
To write about a father’s death is to tease out the pieces of a relationship, if you can remember it. My mom says he doted on me as a baby, that I was just the cutest baby, and my father adored me.
I can’t remember it.
I feel I wanted more from him as a child, more heart to hearts, more affection. I recall work and bishopric duties and a closed bedroom door where he watched HBO propped up in the coveted queen size bed. I remember dinners, him at the head, offering discipline for poor table manners, in his den tying flies on little silver pedistals and with butterfly threads.
I’m a Bishop’s daughter, born, blessed and baptised into the Mormon religion, my memories starting at 3, the day we moved to Cody, Wy. A western life of trout fishing, cow hustling, walking hills and going to rodeos. Running wild and free in the summers and then bundled, wobbling snowmen, to trek to school in the freezing sparkling mornings, home for lunch in the afternoon.
I can’t say I wasn’t miserable. I was. I think I was born miserable, or maybe it’s sensitive. Whiney. My feelings were hurt a LOT. My siblings picked and mocked, as siblings do. I read a LOT. I loved books. The stories and how I just was IN them and they weren’t this life. Escape! from knowing things weren’t fair and feeling somehow it was all against me. A father dying doesn’t help this issue.
Before he was gone I would lay in bed crying many nights, or up til 2am reading. Or crying then reading. I felt I was horribly unliked and misunderstood at 8 years of age. There was also the months before my baptism when I read the book of mormon and prayed to know if the church was true and how tortured I was not to have a breast that burned with a testimony of the church of jesus christ of later day saints.
There may have been a first grade cheating with the deaf girl fiasco that ruined my good social standing as well. These things can be devastating. All I know is by second grade no one would talk to me anymore, couldn’t be my friend, I should know why! I tried to pick on the bottom of the totem pole, the odd duck that everyone picked on and immediately my old friends, the “popular” girls whirled on me, accusing me of being a horrible meanie to pick on such a one…
And I drifted, and read, and still had friends when I look back, and felt the world would be happier without me, and cried and I imagined great tragedy falling on our family, my death, running away, SOMETHING for sympathy, true kindred understanding and sheepish acceptance back into the main fold.
And then my father died.
During the next 30 years of life it has been an ever present fact, fiction, memory, portion, thing, there, nudge it, see where this string leads oh right back to that day. A miserable grief that an eleven year old holds onto and stuffs down and pretends isn’t there, never connecting it to a life that felt like it was lived in a tunnel. A wedge of eleven, the part of me that remembers it all, hiding out behind my heart, thumping against the rib cage sometimes.
I know there is suppose to be healing and “closure” but how do you let that piece of you go? Why would you want to close that up? Oh hell, who thinks you can? I’ve done my inner child rituals and therapies, visualizations and cried, oh i have cried, always thinking this round will be the one to get it all out but She/me is always there, sad, frightened, resigned and beaten because I Lost My Dad.
I still have all the stages of grief, denial, depression, rage…the rage of loss rearers it head often, still, some years more than others.
The older I get the stronger it can be, as I see the screwed up choices that trace straight to the loss. The Rage at what I could have done with my life by now if I hadn’t been so lost and maudlin, so detached and over invovlved. So fucked and numb just dreaming of some one who could see it all. Some one to fill the hole, fix the eleven year old, explain that life can be a happy ending. Maybe.
The betrayal, the being cheated. No real knowledge of my father as a person, being so young and so stunned by events. Frantic greedy grasping at the few people who knew him to give me a memory or two, all of it thin and watered down by time. I think it’s reasonable for this to make me ANGRY.
I will never stop missing him.
The smell of old spice and scratchy jackets and m&ms by the bedside for a handful before teeth brushing at bedtime as we hugged and kissed him goodnight.
What else do you want to know? My internal emotional temperature isn’t enough?
Of course not, how boring just to read for pages about how sad I am.
He died an interesting death. I feel like I’ve described it a hundred million times. I sound rote and bored as I speak about it to others.
He was water skiing, on the skiis, at a lake, a remote shore, a mormon weekend, labor day actually, the final summer hurrah, families with boats and waterskies and my father, he wasn’t bishop that year, he had given it up, was going to be a youth leader, I was turning 11. He would be spending time with us. (I forget about that. That was the year we were gonna get him back, from his duties in the church, from a pretty deep depression, from issues with Mom. I forget we were getting him back.)
Out on a speed boat, tired of waterskiing our group headed back to shore and the engines died and us kids were climbing out into the water as a man rush/splashed up, Brother Nelson, owner of the boat, possibly Bishop Nelson at that point, I think I remember now he had just taken over for my dad, or had a year ago or, something, yelling “in or out, in or out!”
I was off the boat standing in warm lake water, my little sister was on the edge frozen between getting out and getting back in, my Mom had already jumped out of the boat at the hushed air on the beach, just knowing something was wrong and was probably halfway to finding my Father laid out on another boat, where she took over the CPR on him leaving a bruise on his forehead. It didn’t work.
So my sister stayed on the boat my mother and I had just departed, and it sped back to the mainland to call an ambulance – my mother was in the boat that held my fathers body performing cpr and heading back to the mainland- I was 10, going on 11, my birthday only a month away, up to my thighs in warm early Sept lake water and everything was silent. The water was lapping the sides of boats and a girl I knew hung over the edge of another boat, a Nelson i didn’t like much, but I hollared anyway, to test the silence. “Shandeee!”
“Shhh, don’t you know someone died?” in her snottiest little girl voice. And I stood bewildered with dread. I still hate her.
I went to shore, got hugged, found my brother, someone at some point said something was wrong with my father. My older sister was there too. I tried to cling to my brother, he didn’t like it, shook me off, sent me under decks. It had gotten cold and I shivered in a wet swimsuit and towel, my flipflops lost. I prayed and I prayed but it felt futile and finalized. I knew somehow that he was gone and my faith, whatever there was or wasn’t of it, wouldn’t bring him back.
A small child said “I bet he died” and I whirled and said no or we don’t know or something. I used to know exactly but the words have faded, even with reliving them at regular intervals, making sure that day DID live on, that last piece of something of him even though the actual memories start clearly at his absence. His sudden, graceful exit. He floated down on the skies. I forgot to tell you that, he was in the water actually skiing, and just let go and sailed on down to rest like good water skiers do. 5 mins is what I remember being told. He was in the water for about 5 min between letting go and people realizing something was wrong and being pulled onto the boat to be given CPR.
I think everyone agrees it is an amazing way to go. Drifting down, sun in your face, beautiful day out with friends and family, and hopefully whatever momentary awareness took place between life stopping system failiure and his going it invovled a beautiful feeling of peace and love and that everyone is going to be safe and happy and there is a better place.
Unfortunately that is not the feeling that gets left behind. And learning to survive life began on a whole different level.