My respect for my father has always been enormous, but never greater than on this date, one year ago. This is not the anniversary of his death; rather, today is the anniversary of Dad's resolve to saddle up and face the unknown. I did not realize that this time of year would be difficult. I thought I had passed the worst of the grief. I don't want to write this post; I feel like a cat being dragged to a bath tub, full of fear and panic at diving headfirst back into these memories. Nobody talks about the grieving process after the acute pain subsides. A year later, it still sucks. However, Dad taught me to face things head on, so I guess that's why I'm writing.
"That horse has already left the barn." These were the words Dad's oncologist used when we asked about options that could prolong his life. The cancer had spread to his marrow, and she said that in all her years of practice, she had never seen a case this aggressive or advanced. That it happened on April Fools' Day is another point for the gods of irony.
Dad bowed his head and said "well, damn." He did not plead, deny or cajole. He simply became resolved to die, and did it with more grace and bravery than I can imagine a human being capable of.
One of my favorite memories of Dad was of him sitting in his rocker on the front porch during the golden hour of sunset that evening, a cigar in his hand. I asked him if he'd like to come inside. He looked over his shoulder at me and gestured to the light. "Why would I? Just look at this." In his life, he experienced moments of simple beauty to the depths of his soul, and with the light literally fading, he relished being able to feel so profoundly the beauty of the world once more.
I put out the call, and in the ensuring days, a veritable legion of his friends stopped by, called and wrote. Brownies were left at the doorstep, and tons of food made its way to the house to sustain us through the process. Dad's last bite of anything was Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia. (He was an ice cream fanatic, which makes this so fitting.) He began refusing food and water thereafter.
Dad chose to die. I thought I knew respect before this, but I didn't know the half of it. I mean, this was the Big One. The Bogeyman. The Grim Reaper. The Thing We Most Fear. And he went straight towards it. I'm still baffled by this.
He faced Death head-on, as he did for everything in his life. Though he was in unfathomable pain, he refused pain medication as often as possible. He wanted to be lucid and present, and preferred being in his recliner in the living room to the comfort of his bed. He loved being where the action was.
However, when Dad finally passed, at that same golden hour not two weeks later, there was no one in the room with him. The family was in the living room, going through old photos and telling stories about him that had us laughing our butts off. When I checked on him and found his body, I felt both a sense of peace and a pretty large twang of guilt for not being by his side.
But this - I guess this is the point of this post - artists are by nature solitary creatures, and no matter how much Dad loved his people, he reserved a large part of himself for him and him alone. He found solace there. Science probably wouldn't back me up on this one, but I believe, to my very core, that he let go intentionally, in the comfort of his own company.
What I learned from all of this, other than how acute it is to miss someone so very much, is to keep a private place in my soul that nourishes me from within, and to face the unknown with bravery and dignity. That, and life is too short not to enjoy ice cream.
Thanks for reading. Nicole