This week of Father's Day, I'd like to share several posts about fathers. I will start with this one about my dear father:
On Saturday morning—exactly one week after my ovarian surgery—I awoke at eight forty-five. It was late. Dad had not checked in at six forty-five as he had every morning in the three years since Mother died. I quickly dialed his number. He answered.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“Yep. I had a restless night, but I’m getting up to make breakfast.” I had trouble hearing him, enveloped in pillows and covers as I was.
“Fine. I’ll get up, too,” I said. “Call me when you finish eating your oatmeal.”
Forty-five minutes later I abruptly set down my cup of coffee. Dad had not called back.
“We have to go over to the house. Right now,” I said to Les as I threw on a top and some casual pants and ran a comb through my hair. “Hurry.”
The two miles seemed extraordinarily long. I couldn’t see or hear anyone stirring when I passed the big windows on the patio. No one answered my knock.
“Dad? Dad? Dad, I’m coming in,” I called as I turned my key in his lock.
Les followed me into the bedroom.
“He’s dead,” I said.
Dad lay there—covers neatly arranged, pajamas buttoned to the very top, arms and legs already cold.
I knelt down by his bed, trying to will him back to life. “I just want to talk to you,” I wailed. “I need to ask you what to do now. I want my daddy back.” I could not be consoled. Les patted my shoulder, waited patiently, and then took me home so we could call my brother, sister, and our children. It didn’t seem right to use Dad’s phone without asking.
When Les and I returned to the house, Dad was still lying there, still peaceful, even colder. The family and some neighbors came to say good-bye to Poppa. We sat in the hot, humid living room and talked while we waited for all of the local grandchildren to arrive. No one sat in Dad’s recliner. We crowded into his small bedroom and formed a scrunched circle to pray. I asked that the mortuary not take his body until everyone was there.
Sometime during the long hours, it occurred to me that the house was just a shell that now belonged to my brother, my sister, and me. Then I realized that I was the matriarch of my family of origin.
And at five thirty that evening—right after everyone went back to whatever they had been doing, right after the men in black carried Dad out of the house feet first—Les and I rushed off to attend the six o’ clock garden wedding of one of our granddaughters. We were still wearing the clothes we had thrown on that morning.
We were startled once again by how much of life consists of andness. It is pleasure and pain, health and illness, joy and sorrow, life and death. And sometimes it is all rolled into the same day.
(Excerpted from This Path We Share: Reflecting on 60 Years of Marriage ©2010 Lois Tschetter Hjelmstad)