Updated: Jul 12, 2020
My dad died a year ago today. He stopped gasping for air and his heart stopped. Or his heart stopped and so he stopped gasping for air. Either way, I’m sure I got the medicine wrong, but those scenarios are what I’ve held close to me as truths for a year now. My dad has been gone a very long time. A year is both fast and quick and long and slow and arduous and too-suddenly-over all at once. This is how the almost eleven months that he spent sick felt, and it is how the year after he left us has felt too.
"She knows by now that grief is mostly endurance, understanding over and over that the person you loved is not coming back." -Joan Wickersham, "The News From Spain: 6" from The News From Spain
I remember watching this vein in his neck flutter while he was dying. They’d unhooked him from the ventilator, given him morphine to make the gasping for air easier on him, and then the four of us—my mom, my sisters, and I—stood around his hospital bed watching him die.
It is a strange thing to watch another human being fade away. It’s too odd. That moment between he’s still here and he’s gone is ineffably sad and overwhelming. It doesn’t make sense. Life is full of processes and transitions. You get from Point A to Point B somehow. But to get to death, cancer just happens and then your body decides it’s had enough and suddenly you’ve gone from alive to dead.
I watched and listened to my dad gasp for breath for about forty-five minutes. That vein in his neck kept fluttering—and for me that sudden kinetic movement was louder than those painful graspings for more air. For forty-five minutes I watched him die, and then he was actually dead and a part of me that I am still ashamed of felt relieved. I was glad I didn’t have to watch that vein flutter anymore. Then I was surprised I didn’t have to watch that vein flutter anymore. Then he was pronounced actually dead and a whole bunch of things happened that I don’t feel the need to recall.
"…Grief: a cycle that seeks no clear resolution.…" -John W. Evans, "Katie Ghazals: x. One Year"
Three weeks before he had to be put on a ventilator, I told my dad I would see him soon. I had been in Michigan for a friend’s wedding and was about to go to the airport to head back to Oregon. My dad didn’t really want me to leave. He seemed worried about seeing me again. But I had another wedding in Michigan in just under a month so I assumed I would see him again. I think we always assume when we leave someone that we’ll see them again. I told him not to worry. I told him I would see him in just a few weeks. I kissed him on the forehead. Then I left and I never saw him again conscious.
My dad is dead. I miss him. I miss the life I used to have. The one where I called my mom and she told me what everyone in the house was busy doing—and “everyone” included my dad. Change has been very terrible this last year. Having to get used to the words I miss my dad has been very terrible. Watching my mom adjust to a brand new life makes me sad. Watching my sisters relearn life in Michigan without him makes me sad. My own life going on almost as though nothing has changed—because I live in Oregon and he lived and died in Michigan—makes me sad too.
"Life, oblivious to his grief, continued." -Julie Orringer, The Invisible Bridge
I want death to mark my life more visibly than it has. It’s the silliest inclination I’ve had in years. Grief is everywhere whether I want it or not. But right now, I really want it to appear in its most ostentatious form. I want it to emerge—cloaked in shimmering black, carrying a set of jangling silver keys, face pale with fatigue and rouged with a hint of powder—and tell me that it has something for me to wear so that everyone around me will know that I am grieving. That is what I want today, unreasonably, because I miss my dad today more than most days. And I want this knowing—reasonably, rationally, calmly even—that I won’t get it.