Wednesday, December 1, 2010

My father passed away last Saturday. I'd finally gotten home after a long, long day when my brother called and said to come over because our dad might be dead. That simply could not be, I thought. My brother hadn't checked him properly. How often had we joked how our dad was like Mr Burns, no matter how old and decrepit he became he was just too mean to ever die? He would keep going on forever. So I pulled on my coat and shoes and rushed out the door hanging onto that word might.

But at the house a fireman told me he was gone before I entered. Inside I found my brother leaning against the stove in total shock, a policeman gently questioning him, and my father on the floor covered with a blue blanket. I sat beside him trying to accept the fact that the familiar person lying in front of me was now just an empty shell. I wondered if his spirit was there somewhere coming to terms with the same thing. I hoped, prayed he'd gone in his sleep. But why was he on the floor then? Had he been trying to go for help? "Because he was an alcoholic, remember?" my brother later said, something the paramedics could tell, he informed me, without his having to saying a word.

Yes but...

I wanted to run my hand over his hair in apology for not getting there earlier when I could have actually spoken to him. And might have if only he'd looked a lot more asleep and a little less dead. He didn't have the peaceful look of someone who'd known it was his time. He looked like he'd accidentally vacated his body which only made me picture, again and again, what his last days and hours might have been like.
When my sister arrived we discussed what to do. Whether burial or cremation, a cemetery here or the Philippines, a funeral mass or a simple memorial service. I suggested we each speak and invite friends and family to do the same but my sister shook her head. "I know you feel guilty, Cheryl, but I don't think that's necessary." I resisted the urge to say that if any of us felt guilty it was her for not speaking to our father in over two years, for having been here since August yet failing to patch things up, for bringing three of his grandchildren over here yet never letting him see them even once. But what would be the point? Besides, our mother was in the next room. And I knew this was my sister's way of dealing with overwhelming feelings. Moreover, tired of being their go between, I'd stopped trying to make peace between them ages ago. I could have brought the girls over to see him myself, in spite of how my sister would have reacted, or at least told him she and the girls where here just blocks away from him...but I never did. So, a few hours later in a noisy all night diner, between sniffles and tears, I reminded her of all the funny stories everyone told at our grandfather's funeral and how nice it would be if dad had something similar. "Not everyone hated him," I added. "Okay," she sighed.

Monday, my mother and I made arrangements at the funeral home. Afterwards, she told me how, when they'd asked about him, and I'd talked about how he loved opera, fishing, fine art, fine food and travel and hoped I'd have a funny, touching enough story to tell at his memorial, she'd remembered the days when she was working two jobs and just before she was about to pay off a bill she found out my father had already used the money on something completely useless. When she'd confronted him about it, he'd replied, "So? Sue me!"

"Oh, so that's why you didn't say anything," I said. "I thought you were too sad to talk."

"No! It was because when she asked us that all I could think was the words, so sue me!"

It's been four days. His home is being cleared, his bills and accounts settled, obituary written (by me) and sent in to be printed, friends and family informed. Not the way I thought we'd be spending my sister's last week here before she and the girls returned to Fiji. She was right. I do feel a lot of regret. Out of the three of us I was the one who got along with him, who'd put the past behind us and found a way to let all the horrible things he sometimes said go in one ear and out the other. I've jokingly called him asshole dad here on my blog. But he was just my dad, I loved him and I regret not being there for him towards the end.

My sister and brother, on the other hand, have their own list of regrets. And my mother, who has known our father since high school, who hasn't slept in days, is going through her own grieving process.

His memorial service is this Saturday and I'm still not sure what to say. Then, sometime next year, I'll have to go to the Philippines for the first time in my life, along with my father's remains, so he can be placed beside his mother and twin brother. That, I'm guessing, will be a strange, emotional trip. More on that later.