Last Father’s Day I hadn’t had a conversation with my father in over two years. Or rather I had been talking to him but he could no longer answer me. He had early onset Alzheimer’s and had ceased speaking to me.
I still talked to him a bit when I sat beside his bed but more and more I sat there reading my phone or listening to music. His death crept in at a pace so slow that while I knew the fact of his dying, it in no way seemed to be a reality. I couldn’t really see him in the bed anymore, he seemed more like an object, a piece of furniture like an ancient sideboard in the corner of a room around which life lurches forward.
Though forward is not the right word. Now, when I think of those long months I imagine that time only revolves it does not advance.
I picture him, immovable and inevitable in his bed and we, his wife and his child, orbit at a frantic speed. A speed so frantic that we cannot see that he is dying. It is because his dying was not a gradually slipping away as I imagined death to be. His death was more like an idea slowly, slowly, slowly solidifying in that bed.
And of course, my memory here is not accurate in the slightest because at least in the beginning of the end he did still move around. He didn’t know where he was or even what he was anymore but that persistent impetus of life pushed his body on, even while his mind fragmented, blown apart into dust. I picture his thoughts like the night sky, dying stars, expanses of unknown but maybe, hopefully, still beautiful.
Of course, all this thinking is only now after the fact. While he was there still in front of me I did not think about him at all. I suppose it was easier that way. Though that is letting myself off the hook.
All I have learned from death is the titanium grip of true denial. It is a power beyond conscious comprehension. For the years that we were witnessing his death, I watched my mother closely and confidently pronounced her to be ‘in denial’. Then with his last barely-perceptible breath, it crashed over me, suddenly relentlessly pressing me down into the floor – the full leaden weight of grief. And only then did I realise “Oh no, it was me. It was me that was in denial.”
I don’t believe in god so I don’t think that my father is anywhere. I look at the sky nearly every day and think about how he doesn’t belong here anymore, this isn’t his home. He’s gone and I don’t know where to look for him. Each day, different levels of his goneness are revealed. I put on my shoes one day and think with genuine surprise that he doesn’t need shoes anymore. I listen to a song and realise I don’t know if he liked it or not. I eat chocolate and realise with actual shock that there is a finite amount of chocolate in all our lives
So here’re five things I wish I could tell you today on this stupid made up day…
I love you.
I am sorry I forgot you before you had died.
You were a better person than all of us.
Why didn’t you leave me something? You knew you would leave me and you were a sort of writer. Why didn’t you write me a goodbye letter?
And lastly: Thank you.