Father’s Day

My father passed away last Father’s Day. Three of my children and I scattered my husband’s ashes into the sea in Northern Ireland only a few Father’s Days ago…..as a daughter was diving into emerald seas across the globe, doing research under the tutelage of the very same professor who had been her dad’s undergraduate thesis adviser.

 

Recently I heard Sheryl Sandberg being interviewed about the aftermath of her husband’s death, in which friends asked her if they could do anything for her and she responded with the internal thought, “Can you make Father’s Day not happen?”
I don’t feel that way any more, though arguably I once did. My children and I have honored their dad in different ways since he died, on Father’s Day and every other day. This year I’ll honor both my dad and theirs. Even if you had no such father in your life, I’m guessing nearly everyone knows fathers or father figures they can honor in whatever way seems best. If you can still call write a note to or call that person tomorrow to express your admiration and gratitude, all the better. I’ll be speaking to mine, and to my children’s wonderful and strong dad, in my own way.

Love in the Spaces

imageJune 1990, Cambridge, Massachusetts

One-thirty-one-thirty-one.

It’s the mechanical response: my father’s date of birth.

He died on Sunday, Father’s Day.

A few days earlier my subconscious had hovered around the equally palindromic date of six-one-six-one-six as I was waiting to pick up my older brother at the airport.  Only days before that my father, who had long been immobilized by Parkinson’s Disease, had haltingly spoken the very same phrase my husband voiced days before he passed away.  Although there had been no overt sign that my father’s death was imminent, intuition spoke.

“It’s just my gut, and my gut’s been wrong, but I think you should fly out this week.”

And my brothers and I found ourselves laughing, giving each other a hard time, and telling stories and finishing each other’s sentences as we surrounded my father’s bed during his last days.

*****

imageFebruary 1931, New York City

Family legend has…

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The Light You Do Not See

Solitary Sunrise (c) 2017

At 4:30 a.m. the waterfront view is fully saturated one day and colorless mist the next. The best hints I gather from my starting vantage point a few blocks away lie in the light: usually a patch of shimmering silvery-slate in the deep blue-black signals an unsubdued sunrise, and I quicken my pace.

It’s a little bit like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates, or the first view of monochromatic tartan turf from inside Fenway Park: you might gather clues or intuit what your senses will tell you before you get to it, but until you do it’s never a sure thing.

I took this shot before the morning light last week before travelling several hundred miles for my younger daughter’s college graduation.

My little girl.  I dropped her off at college and when it was time to say goodbye watched her twirl around and dance away in a swirling aubergine skirt, knowing she was “alright as she left” her home port.

Ten hours later, driving back to a truly unoccupied house that had seemed empty when it was inhabited by a family of only five, I was lost in an industrial park in Connecticut and found the CD my husband had somehow arranged for me to find two-and-a-half years after he died, popping it in to play and knowing only that he had selected for me John Hiatt songs from an enormous ouvre.

Before leaving home I asked my youngest if I should bring anything–did she want me to bring the necklace her father gave her for her birthday, just three weeks before he died? On a delicate silver chain is a ruby–her primary school color, and a shade not unlike her long, curly hair–surrounded by small diamonds, a treasure she let me keep in a safe place despite knowing of my tendency to forget where I have secreted such things.

She did, and I brought it for her to wear.

When we arrived, my now young adult youngest child met us at the airport, smoothly executing a parallel parking maneuver I still can’t pull off.  She whisked us to her apartment and commencement eve’s blizzard of friends and activity.

A university her father did not know she would attend.  A boyfriend of four years whom he never met.  A city he had never visited.  Friends whom he would have been so delighted to see supporting her.

This was to be the fifth college commencement my husband would not attend in a traditional way.

After deftly reparking the car I had left egregiously unmoored from the curb, my graduate-to-be walked ahead of me in a flowing, bright printed dress, part of a wardrobe I’d never seen.  I recognized the shoes, heels with an intricate cut-out design which we’d bought for her first birthday without her dad.  We’d traveled together to Vermont, where the six of us had often spent her winter birthday, and I’d trudged aimlessly in an uncharacteristically muddy early March, hearing a little girl happily calling out “daddy” from a bunny slope.

While we were together I saw my daughters exchange glances quite a few times, at more than one restaurant, before gently reminding me that I kept asking for tables for one more person than was to be dining with us.

Only one of us does not have a major transition going on–new homes and jobs and graduate schools, and all their attendant and considerable hopes and stresses.

We can’t know exactly how all of these changes will work out, and while it may not be wise to steer too hard a-starboard, keep walking ahead of me.  Someday I may catch up.

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A Beat With No Melody

 

 

“…love’s not the song, but after
like the mute, remembered chorus of the rain
     that stains the walk
long after falling, or the lifeless stalk
     still hoisting its head of grain.”

 

Winter haltingly segues into spring, the same calendar space where death became a memory, taking over the home in which I could not bear to remain.

Lately the sun has burned furiously before falling. One has to look away as it passes out of sight.

But then sunset simmers, its bright traces receding in a thinning plume beyond the tree line. Bright nursery colors bubble into a reduction of deep rose and bruised plum. Clusters of geese shadowed in sheer black dot the snowy marsh like musical notes.

I only recently discovered that the last book my husband Jim read in the home where he died was the same thick biography of Alexander Hamilton that Lin-Manuel Miranda had picked up for a vacation trip . . . with epic musical results.

As time has passed since Jim’s spring solstice death, there seems so much on which to fill him in: “Now it’s a hip-hop musical!” I exclaim, holding the book up to him in the fashion of an Executive Order (by an executive whose identity he would find yet more implausible). He tilts his head and nods, smiling, as he runs through the immense internal musical catalogue he had amassed by the time his heart stopped beating.  Of course, he thinks, what a wonderful idea.

I never see myself visiting Jim on his side of the veil, but picture him back in this one–or, less frequently, watching over us in that thin in-between space in which one can “catch a glimpse of,” or even lead a soldier’s chorus from, the other side. (“My love, I’ll see you on the other side,” Hamilton tells his wife, who for the half-century she outlives him can only catch a glimpse of him in the eyes of the living.)

Perhaps we can only imagine the imaginable.

The same line appears in three songs in Hamilton, but never in the same simile’s company.

First, scrappy young Alexander Hamilton reflects“I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory. . . . Is it like a beat with no melody?”

Hamilton is speaking of his own death: he does not know what metaphor will capture it. But even then he had experienced so much death–of the mother who loved him, of his countrymen and women in the Leeward Islands hurricane–that he did not need to imagine it, any more than I now need to imagine my husband’s; it is well beyond simile, all too vivid and concrete.

Later, after Hamilton has experienced yet more death in war, and the means of his own fate, if imminent, seems overwhelmingly likely to be of a piece with fellow soldiers’, Manuel dispenses with metaphor, and the line stands unadorned: “I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory…”

But he endured.  He not only was alive–not drowned, not slain in battle–but survived his son, to endure with what is to every parent the indescribable but all-too imaginable unimaginable.

Finally, within the space of a bullet fired ten paces away, Hamilton realizes not only what the mechanism of his own death will be, but that his first simile was faulty; he understands that after all There is no beat, no melody.”

My husband died in our Hamilton-era home.  In his last hours, I felt his immense intelligence, including his vast knowledge of music and melody, disappear into the vastness outside his body. Even then his heart kept beating until it slowed to a stop as the new spring began showering its own rain of melody.

Love is both the song and after.

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The Last Lap

The last lap was six years ago. Tonight I traveled the same road and made my own lap alone across an ice-covered field,under a blanket of bright white clouds that shifted to blue on blue, heartache on heartache.

Love in the Spaces

autumn 086Trees Through Tears (c) SMG

It was an unspeakably awful thing to say.

After an exhausting and unnecessary verbal battle, the hospice’s medical director–who had been openly skeptical of my physician husband’s emphatic wish not to die in a hospital (at least when I was the one to express that wish as his medical proxy)–asked whether my husband wanted to drive with me from the hospital or wanted an ambulance to take him.

“Held on to hope like a noose, like a rope
God and medicine take no mercy on him
Poisoned his blood, and burned down his throat
Enough is enough, he’s a long way from home . . . .

Laid up in bed, you were laid up in bed
Holding the pain like you’re holding your breath
I prayed you could sleep, sleep like a stone
You’re right next to me
But you’re a long way from…

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