They burned you. I watched your thinning blond hair and prominent nose roll away behind the window of the hearse and then they burned you. Not two months earlier you were at my house for Christmas dinner. And we laughed, and you stayed extra nights because the storm kept you from driving home and I cried when you left even after extra days together, because I love you so very much. Yes I loved you as intensely as a daughter could, and no matter how my guts gnarl into balls of emotion and lump in my throat I simply cannot cry anymore from all the tears I’ve cried since they burned you.
You, larger than life to this your only daughter, filled with hidden romantic passions and a creatively talented mind like no other I’ve met, it’s all gone to ash in a marble urn 2 feet under the ground in upstate New York where your family who died before you rest, and where I too will go when I am where you are now.
Where is that daddy? Where did you go? Are you still somehow here and I just can’t sense it because I’m too walled and welled up inside? I have seen you in my meditating mind once or twice but I wonder if my mind played tricks on my burdened aching heart for just one more sight of your infectious flashing smile, one more listen to your terrific belly-deep laugh, even one more listen to the sound of your wise cracking cynical and often hurtful words.
I didn’t get to tell you good-bye, a cliché I never understood until it quashed my heart. They said you had months before you’d go, and the pain medicine would make it easier for you when I thought we’d be able to talk, when I thought I’d be able to ask you questions and when I hope beyond hope you had some things you wanted to say to me too. Did you want to tell me you loved me and “be strong“? Did you want to reminisce favorite memories of when I was a little girl? Did you want to impart something helpful from your 74 years of life, something I could cling to in what has become overwhelming confusion and sadness now that you’re gone?
I don’t know if I will ever stop seeing the you of those last weeks, the yellowed bloating body replacing what once was a strong capable frame, the gaunt stretched pallor of your face replacing one heck of a handsome man, the grayed glassy emptiness of your eyes replacing the otherwise calming green. I don’t know if I can erase the last look I had of you laying on the stretcher, white sheet up to your chin, mustard skin thin and tight against the proud Norwegian cheek bone below, lips cracked with dried blood from your last coughs of life, coughs that brought decaying organs up into to your mouth and caked your teeth with blackish red goo. I don’t know if I can gently closing the emptiness of your eyes and wiping blackened blood from your mouth to protect mom from seeing you that way, you her husband of 40 years, you the man she stood by out of need but loved nonetheless.
I don’t know if I feel shame or anger or if I am ever going to feel like the me I was at that Christmas before you died a mere 7 weeks later in your bedroom and they wheeled you away and burned you.
It is difficult to picture you any other way now, sure I can find pictures scattered all around me now, in drawers, on walls, all over my phone’s photo streams, and I can look right at you in any of those pictures and remember so many times I’d sneak peeks at you, feeling proud you were my dad, feeling angry you weren’t more of a dad. But today I can’t picture that you in my mind. I only see the you who quietly accepted defeat, the you who lost what was an enormous appetite, the you staggering to maintain balance so you could hold the pliers steady while you screwed a fitting to your boat mast, the you insisting before you fell you could put your shoes on without help, the you in drugged confusion mumbling incoherent ramblings while you lay dying in your bed, the you disappearing in that shiny black van to return home 3 days later burned into nothing but ash.
The bagpipe played your favorite song as we lowered you into the ground. It was beautiful even if it wasn’t you playing. How awesome it was you learned to play such a complicated instrument. “Amazing Grace” will always be your song.
You’d be so proud how well we turned out for you in our finery. We all took turns touching the last touch of you, ignoring the marble casing between our fingertips and you, as if stone could keep us from imagining we were really touching you in the flesh. We each grasped half fistfuls of dirt and sprinkled it over you, certain we were more loving and gentle than shovelfuls that followed. I laid your favorite daisies on the freshly covered plot and pressed my hand to the ground with every ounce of what was left in my heaving wretch of a body, and then I climbed to the top of the hill and did what you always said you wanted me to do when I’d gotten to an okay place in my life. Not that I was okay, no way, I was far from okay. But I wanted you to have a sign of how omnipotent your lettered words were in that unconditionally loving letter you wrote when I was in the mental hopsital. So I stood at the top of that hill overlooking your grave, and I held up my arm and I waved to you. Just like you asked.
A few months later you came to me in a dreamy state, and we talked and it was peaceful and it ended so damned soon. Come back and talk again please? I’m far from done what I need to know, I’m far from being okay with you gone. Wake me tomorrow with the tender song you sang when you woke me as a little girl,
Good morning little yellow bird, yellow bird, yellow bird, good morning little yellow bird, how are you?
originally written august 2014