Tuesday, June 23, 2009


"I'm sorry for your loss" I think they said.
"It was his time to go, he's in a better place."
"He's happier now, no more pain."
"I'm sorry" they said.
"I'm sorry."

I don't really remember what they said, all those well-wishers, at his funeral. I don't remember who they were. I remember loads of people, and hugs. I remember faces I hadn't seen in years mixing with those I saw everyday, all one big blur of sadness, hugging me, wishing me well. I remember tears and laughter as people shared stories of his life, but I don't remember the words or the people. I remember feeling like the room was so small and stuffy, but at the same time like my father's closed casket was miles away, though I could see it in the next room. I remember a sister asking me if I wanted to see him, to lift the lid on the casket, to do a small family-only viewing. I remember not wanting to out of his interests, not mine, because I still to this day have a sneaking suspicion that it wasn't him in that casket, that he's slipped away to Mexico or the Bahamas and he has a sweet little Senorita and a casita on the beach. I remember the smell of carnations in the air, which until then were one of my favorite flowers but ever after have reminded me of death.

I remember following the hearse to the cemetery. I remember sitting under the tent in the front row of chairs next to my mother. I remember one specific flower arrangement. I don't remember the words that were said or who said them. I remember the shock at each gunshot during his salute. I remember the wind picking up and blowing flower arrangements over, blowing the flag off his casket. I remember the strange men in uniform folding his flag into a perfect, neat little triangle and handing it to my mother. I remember sobbing as he was lowered into the ground and feeling hysterical at the thought of him locked in a casket that would be sealed into a cement tomb that would be buried 6 feet underground.

But I don't remember the faces, I don't remember the words.
"I'm sorry for your loss" I think they might have said.
"My condolences."
"I'm sorry."
I'M sorry.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Reality of Loss

I feel like I can't remember anything about that day, and yet when I think about it, I remember everything in stunning detail, as if it was a video I've watched a thousand times.

It was a Wednesday, 11 years ago and I had gone to classes at the University that morning, followed by work at the daycare in the nursery that afternoon. I worked every afternoon, from 2:30 until closing. One of my parents had asked me to babysit for them that weekend, they had some big soiree and they needed someone who knew their two children and was trustworthy. I was excited at the prospect of some extra money and I liked these parents and their children.

At home I was making spaghetti when the phone rang. Spaghetti that would never be eaten. Spaghetti was my favorite food up until that day. I didn't consciously decide not to love it anymore, I actually just realized yesterday that I haven't eaten it in years. It was a meal he had taught me to make when I was younger and something I cooked probably once a week because it was cheap, convenient and tasty.

It was my mom on the phone.

"Rachael?" she said, and I could tell she'd been crying.

"What's wrong?" I asked.

"Your dad - he died today."

And with that, my heart hit the floor.

Dad had been sick for a while, he had cancer that was invasive and he'd chosen not to have chemo. The doctors gave him a few months to live without chemo, a few years at most with chemo. So far, he'd been alive and in pretty good shape for a year. He was actually feeling better than ever lately.

"Your dad was driving down the cut-across road when he had a heart attack and drove off the road into someone's yard. There was an EMT in the car behind him on the road, who stopped and started CPR within minutes. He was already gone before the ambulance arrived not 10 minutes later."

Heart attacks run in my dad's side of the family. Oddly enough, he's the 3rd son to die of a heart attack while driving. He was 67 years old.

"I'm coming home right now" I told my mom.

It was a long, dark 4 hour drive to the house I'd called home for the last 4 years of my life. We'd moved there when I was 15 and I couldn't leave fast enough for college. I wanted my independence, my freedom, my own life.

When I got home my mom immediately asked me to start making a list of all the preparations that needed to be made. Top priority for me the next morning was calling the insurance company to check on coverage and get paperwork rolling. It struck me hard to have to think about the monetary value of my dad's life, especially so soon after having lost him. It stung me in a way that I haven't forgotten.

I'd just visited two weeks before, when I'd helped Dad replace the front porch railing, do some planting in his massive garden and we'd made time for a bit of fishing in the small pond at the edge of the pasture. If I'd have known it was my last chance to see him, I never would've left. I remember being irritated with him for losing his hearing and not getting hearing aids. I was annoyed at having to repeat myself and speak up all the time. Upset that he couldn't just admit his hearing was going. I wish now that I could take that back. Hug him once more. Get just one more kiss.

But really that's not enough, because what I want more than anything is for my dad to meet my husband, to know the man I love and to hold the son who grows in my belly. I want to be able to tell him I became a Biologist, not an Engineer. I want to tell him about the work I do, how important it is for Conservation, because I know he'd be the only (blood) family member I have who would understand my job, my passion, and also be supportive and excited about my career. I want to show him the 40,000 acre ranch I worked on for my Master's degree, the place that solidified my happiness and shaped my dreams. I want him to see my home, the Hill Country, with his eyes that are so much like mine. I want him to smile at the cool clear green waters of the rivers that run here. I want him to have walked me down the aisle.

Those things all happened, just not the way I wanted.

My dad did walk me down the aisle, but no one knew it was him - there was a storm cloud with a giant rainbow just as we were married. I would've loved to feel his strong hand with it's papery skin in my hand. Loved to have him kiss me on the cheek and tell me I looked beautiful before passing me on to my husband. Loved to have his blessing. Loved to see him love the man I love.

My dad did visit me on the ranch, many times. Always in my dreams, but I know he was there, watching over me and beaming his pride down on me. Whenever I'd get truly frustrated, he'd visit me, reassure me, calm me.

I see my dad frequently in the Hill Country. The storms here are the storms he loved, and they carry his whispers and wrap me in his hugs. The booming thunder is his loud laugh, the bright lightening his quick smile, the raindrops his love.

Dad's most recent visit to my dreams was when I was 4 days pregnant. I'm sure that my father has already held my son. Wrapped him in his arms and kissed his sweet face. I expect he'll be here when my son is born, looking down on his newest grandchild and gifting him with love and patience.