One Year Later

I have tried, on multiple occasions, to sit down and write about my dad’s death – writing has always been a means for me to work through something – but, for some reason, I always get stuck on his last 24 hours. It doesn’t flow like other memories tend to do. So, instead, I’ll start with this…

Sometimes you take a shower, and the world becomes a better place. You get in feeling shitty; you get out clean and refreshed. But sometimes – on the rare occasion – you get in feeling shitty, and you get out still feeling shitty, only now you’re wet.

The day my dad died was when I discovered this second kind of shower.

I got into the shower miserably sad, and I got out miserably sad. Only now I was wet and I had to fucking dry off and put on fucking clothes and do my fucking after-shower routine, and really, I just wanted to be sad without all the other stuff.

It was Tuesday, August 23, 2011. My dad had just died. I returned home alone. I was very aware of the silence. I showered.

Then, wet and sad, I found myself sitting on the edge of my bed, which at that point was just a mattress on the floor in my house that was still under renovations. I can’t recall how long I sat there. but I was replaying my dad’s last 24 hours.

————————-

I showed up at the assisted living residence that he had been living in since July 1 – you can read more about that here – just before lunchtime. After two strokes, my father had been reduced to the mental capacity of a five-year-old. The moments of lucidity were few and far between, but when they happened, they were magical.

That day, I found him in the barbershop they had on site. He was getting a haircut. He made eye contact with me through the mirror and smiled.

Since his first stroke, on June 2, 2011, there was something about the way he smiled every time he saw me – as though he had been waiting his whole life to see my face. Every single time he saw me. And I saw him two or three times a day, every day.

To be fair, my father had one of those smiles – it was warm and mischievous and charming all at the same time. When he smiled, his entire face would light up. So, to have that smile directed at me two or three times a day, every day, was both breathtaking and overwhelming. It was in those moments that I knew he loved me. We had never really said that much in my house.

But I digress.

The final touches were put on his haircut, and he stood up. His six-foot frame towered over the “barber,” a tiny woman who informed him, as he searched his empty pockets for money, that she “would bill him.” He smiled at her, then nodded at me, and told her I was there to pick him up because he “couldn’t find his car.”

His attention turned to me as we walked out of the barbershop.

“Hello, Baby.” Every time.

Smile, then “Hello, Baby.” Then…wait for it…”You wanna see the tree in my room?”

————

Right after we moved him into the residence, I took him to Home Depot. He informed me that he wanted a tree for his room. I found a small bamboo tree in a small pot. We put it in his room, and every day, every time I would see him, he would ask if I knew that there was a tree in his room or if I wanted to see the tree in his room. I asked around. He never mentioned the tree unless I was there. Somehow he connected that tree to me.

It’s in my house now. I am madly trying to keep it from dying. I’m not doing so great at that, but I’m holding out hope.

————

So…”You wanna see the tree in my room?”

“Sure, Dad.”

We walked, arms linked, down the hallway to his room. Ruby, one of the aids, was standing in the kitchen. He stopped me, then leaned against the wall. Crossing his arms, he beamed that smile of his and said to her, “How’s it going ?” It was perfect, quintessential Hal Cox – charming, slightly inappropriate, and full of confidence.

And that’s where it stops. I can’t remember anymore of that day until the phone call at around 9:00pm.

“Molly, we can’t get your father to wake up. He is unresponsive. Should we call an ambulance?”

I think I was at dinner. I was heading over to see him after, but I got this phone call from the nurse on duty, so I hurried over.

He was in his bed, his breathing erratic. He was completely unresponsive.

“Is the ambulance on the way?” I asked. They assured me it was.

I won’t bore you with all the details, but my father had his third and final stroke that night. It was in the direct center of his brain. The doctor said there was nothing that could be done. I remember standing outside the emergency room with my brother – the good brother – as we discussed the DNR and made the conscious decision to let my father die. But he didn’t. Not right away. He held on.

He was moved to a private room.  I sat in a chair next to his bed after the rest of my family had gone home just desperately wanting him to open his eyes and smile that smile and say, “Hello, Baby.” I can hear his voice saying it now – drawn out, slow, then an upward lilt at the end.

He died mid-morning. Just like that. The life literally just left his body, and his light went out. No more smile.

—————

So, it’s August 23, 2011, and my dad has just died. I returned home alone. I showered. I’m sitting on my mattress on the floor, and I’m thinking of the last 24 hours, and I am overcome with grief and sadness and life and emotion and, and, and….the silence is deafening.

I drank that night with the express intent of numbing all feelings, and I continued to drink every day, all day for the next 5 months.

But I digress.

On this, the one-year anniversary of my father’s death, I am, once again, overcome with grief and sadness and life and emotion…but the silence is OK. I’m not interested in numbing anything.

I intend to sit in it. Feel it. Then, I may even tackle a shower. And should I get out just feeling wet, I’ll try to remember how good it feels to simply feel.

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27 thoughts on “One Year Later

  1. I am so sorry for your loss. It took me awhile to get through this post. I would read until I was on the verge of tears. Stop, come back to it, stop and then come back. And here I am, at the end, bawling like a baby. You have wonderful memories, hold on to them, enjoy them, even.

  2. Hugs to you. This is such a beautiful, well-written post. I know the feeling. I lost my grandfather in 2008 and it was like losing a body part. I still feel like he should be there but he’s not.

  3. “charming, slightly inappropriate, and full of confidence.” Sounds like the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree…great writing, reflections, and honesty. The part of about his smile making you feel as though he had been waiting his whole life to see your face…touches me really, really deeply. It’s what I miss the most about my mom, that smile. And it reminds me to smile at my kids like that as often as possible. XOXO. I am reblogging this.

  4. Molly, I don’t have any words, just tears streaming down my face. Tears for the wonderful sweet relationship you and your Dad had. Tears because you didn’t hear him say “Hello Baby” one last time. Tears forryour grief and pain. Thank you for sharing a bit of your soul with us. Love you lots Molly Cox.

  5. oh my dear. I am a giant blubbering, snotty mess right now. We havent met just yet, but we will. and I havent lived this day, but I had a turn of my own. My story quite different yet so many similarities that make me think when we do meet you & I will see eye to eye. When my Papa (also my Dad – another story) passed, almost 7 years ago next month. Honestly, as I type this I had no idea it had been that long, he is still so clear in my mind. and those months leading up till the end feel like they happened not so long ago. I was young, stationed overseas. He was old, wrought with cancer and leukemia. I had been travelling the world, trying to visit as many places as he had 2 quarter centuries before me. We had walked along Omaha beach together (via cell phone) and were scheduled to do the same on his path from the Battle of the Bulge. I had just found out I was pregnant when his health started to fail. I travelled as many times as the Air Force would allow and then a few times more on a Red Cross trips. Like you I spent every moment I could soaking up those smiles and that look. And knowing once and for all how much he loved me. When I became too pregnant to make the International Flight we both sort of knew it was our last few days together. I got the call just after my birthday. He died surrounded by his family (me adopted) , I would not be able to make the funeral, I knew that when I left but I made sure to handle all the military customs and courtesies. That day as they laid him to rest, I made my husband drive me and my very pregnant belly out to that teeny tiny town in the middle of nowhere 6 hours from our home somewhere in the Belgium countryside where he had been trapped for so many days. I had heard his stories so many times that driving through the countryside some 60 years later, I vectored myself in. I found the church where he made camp and I found the marker the village had placed in his units honor just some 50 yards away. I said my peace there. I took a photo of the marker and sent it off to his unit. No one living who remained had seen it yet. When I got home, and why I have typed all of this here for you now. I was hollow and empty and crushed. I sat down in my shower and stayed there for I’m not quite sure how long. Every day after as well, just me and that hot, steamy shower sitting on the floor sobbing like a baby. After a few days I started to see that time in that hot shower as my time to speak with him. And I did. “We” had crazy long conversations and I cried and I smiled and I remembered and I cried some more. I still cry in the shower sometimes now. some 7 years later. some days I still talk to him too. It’s my place. It’s where I go and despite droughts (forgive me SA) and my husbands pleas for the water bill. I find my peace and my grief there and some days I face one and somedays I face the other. I hope tonight when you take your hot shower you find a bit of both and maybe some more the day after that. I’m not sure I’ve ever told a soul all of that. sorry to burden you with my tears tonight, but wanted you to know someone else was out there {Hugs}

    • Stacy, thank you for sharing this…it’s no burden. Knowing that we can share these stories with each other – it’s online therapy, for real. Thank you for sharing your story with me, and I look forward to knowing each other outside of the interwebs.

  6. I held off reading this until I knew that I could read it alone. In all candor, this was painful. We almost lost my mom three times last year. I was with her all three times, once when she lost consciousness from septic shock. She is severely disabled and in a nursing facility. What you wrote here speaks in a deep and meaningful way… I cannot even really articulate a logical and meaningful response save to say that I think we adult children who can share the pain and beauty of loss–especially recent loss–walk a curious road for many years.

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  8. Typing through tears. And I am so sorry for you loss. My father passed last month although it was cancer. I cried when I got “the call”. I cried at his viewing and again at his funeral. When talking among family we talked of all the good times and cried happy tears at all the funny and crazy things he had done. It wasn’t until my birthday that the big cry came. After I waited all day for a call from him. Once more chance to hear his grizzly voice and imagine the smile in his eyes when he said happy birthday. It didn’t come. And shortly after midnight, I cried myself to sleep knowing it never again would. Thank you so much for sharing this story. My dad used to tell me, that it was ok to hurt because that meant I was still alive. He was always my biggest cheerleader in my own health journey, so I always try my best to remember that.

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