On the day my father died, I came home from work early and sat with him. His eyes were closed most of the time, which was par for the course over the last two years. He’d mostly stopped speaking, but when I kissed him he moaned a little and fluttered his eyelids, acknowledging my presence.
I had a vision of him then. He was outside, moving through a field. Ahead of him, the sun was so bright that I couldn’t see what was there, and it threw him into silhouette. I couldn’t see his face, because he was striding away, moving quickly as usual. But his hair was thick and dark, and he moved with purpose and ease.
In the bed, he grasped my hand.
After he died, I held it for a very long time. I remembered my duty: to be a witness. His skin was soft and smooth. He lay as if sleeping. I memorized his face and his fingernails. For each of my sisters and brothers, I held his hand, keeping it warm though he no longer could. Silently, one by one they each had their turn:
I am Tanya, who longs for you. I am here for her, holding your hand.
Now I am Martyn, who misses you, here with you now, holding your hand.
Now it is Tracy, who kisses you, who cries for you.
Next I am Nicholas, who is afraid of disappointing you.
I am Ian, who respects you.
As I transformed myself into each one of my beloved, images flickered by like a movie reel in my mind–each of us as a toddler, a small child, a teenager. Each version of the child smiled at someone just out of frame, and I knew they were looking at my father. The images sped up, the children hurtling into the future toward the present awful moment by leaps and bounds–now graduating from high school, then a young adult, now their current self. Each version received his gaze, and was loved by him in that moment. Each one pumping that love through me, warm, into his hand.
I remember the day after our first child was born; my husband and I brought him home from the hospital. We had planned for every detail of the pregnancy, eagerly awaiting the day he’d arrive, imagining the birth, his face, the announcement to our families and friends. One day after all that, we walked through the door into our living room and set down the car seat. Now what? We hadn’t thought much about what would happen after he was born. We looked at each other, wide-eyed and a little overwhelmed. We’re supposed to just, like, live normal lives now? Like before, but with a baby???
The day after my dad died was the same. My mother and I wandered around the house. I made breakfast. She vacuumed the carpet. We researched online about appliances for my sister’s house. Every once in a while we looked up at each other. Now what?
The roses he planted are blooming. The tree he had planted earlier this year while I was on vacation has now sprouted berries, and the birds flutter in and out all day. He is moving through the field, toward the bright unknown, and he is not afraid.
Dad planted these in April, 2016. He ordered one plant, but ended up with two because the first one they sent was broken. Both are blooming now. This photo was taken on the day he died, June 13, 2017.