Can it really be fourteen years since you left us? So long ago but I remember so many details vividly, as if it was yesterday. I remember the fear in your eyes when you said you thought you needed to go to the hospital. It was only three weeks from that moment until the final goodbye. Still, today, the shock of that gnaws at me. Could we have done something differently, something that might have changed the outcome or was your death fated? I can still smell the ICU, and see the last book you were reading, Boychiks in the Hood, sitting on your hospital tray. After you lost consciousness, I made a copy of your curriculum vitae and pinned it to your hospital wall. I wanted the hospital staff to know who they were treating, as if it mattered. You were someone. I can hear you now. In your soft measured tone you would say, “Helene, everyone is someone.” But, you were my someone. The foolish things we do. I remember the former student who appeared in your hospital room one day to read you poetry. I don’t remember his name. Could you hear him and did his reading soothe or irritate you?
The grief that followed came in crushing waves. Being alone in the car seemed particularly bad. Often I would pull off the road racked with sobs. The children were so young. When “A” didn’t seem appropriately sad I asked, “Aren’t you sad that Papa Dad died?” and he answered, “Not as sad as I’ll be when you die.” And, I knew it was true but how did he know it was true? The kids were ruthless in their insistence that life goes on. I wanted to wallow but they wouldn’t allow it. They demanded my caretaking and in their childish way of speaking plainly they asked over and over about death and marveled at its finality and each time I explained, “that, no, we would never see Papa Dad again” I struggled to keep the quiver out of my voice and the tears at bay. But, in time, the wound, so raw and gaping scabbed over, tenderly at first and then with more permanence, so much like a physical wound.
Sometimes, I panic. Is my memory of you fading? Do I remember the sound of your voice? Are you slipping away from me? But then, I see something of you in one of the boys and it leaves me breathless. I wish you were here to see them and know them; A’s thoughtfulness and wordsmithery, J’s cleverness and keen wit, D’s kindness and wise old soul. They are a living monument to you, better than the most ornate headstone. You live on inside of them and inside of me.
We miss you today, and everyday. Happy Birthday dad.