Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Non-Goodbye

--"I can scarcely bid you good bye even in a letter. I always made an awkward bow."
*John Keats

I guess I'm not done. I'm still thinking about my father here.

Some odd things happened right after he died. The death was sudden, an accident, so we were in shock. I kept thinking the emotional blow was behind my strange reaction. Then later, I found out a friend whose parents passed away a year apart following long illnesses experienced similar things. And those deaths had been expected.

So, I wondered, what the heck.

I was with my mother for nearly a week after the accident. The house was chaos for a few days. People stopped by with enough food to feed a battalion. The phone never stopped ringing.

And as I live and breathe, I could hear him, my father. The deep voice that sang bass in the Methodist choir, led countless closing prayers, instructed an adult class in that church for decades. The voice that settled a one-room schoolhouse of overgrown farm boys who accepted his authority only after wrestling matches at recess (my father always won).

His voice was strong, his laugh infectious. And I could hear both ringing bell clear in the hours and days after he died. I was so certain of this that I would charge from the room I was in, searching for him. But he wasn't there. He was never there.

I also could hear his pickup truck pull into the driveway. I would rush to the window and look. But the truck was where it had long sat, ready for the tailgate to be pulled down and his pointers to leap in, eager for a ride deep into the countryside in search of a quarry of quail. It had not moved, no one had touched that truck.

After a couple of days, I thought I was losing my mind. I slept with the lights blazing. I would dose, exhausted, and my eyes would fly open thinking "he's here" -- and of course, he wasn't.

I thought it was because I had not been at the hospital when he died, had not said goodbye. Because my mind was not accepting the truth. Because I had not seen the awful results of that accident. That I was "hearing" him even after the freakish experience of seeing his name on the town's funeral home sign, where the long wake had to be extended because people kept arriving, hour after hour after hour.

Maybe it was because I kept rediscovering him? At that wake, friends poured in, former co-workers, people I had never seen. One neighbor stood alone and very still, with tears in her eyes. She said my father was kind to her family when they moved there. "Everyone else ignored us. He was the only one in the whole town who made us feel welcome here," she said. I had no idea.

We gave him a funeral the next day and had lunch at home with all that food, asking everyone at the service to please join us. Then I drove my mother almost four hours to his Tennessee hometown for yet another funeral and the burial on that blazing hot July day.

My siblings went back to Alabama. But my mother and I spent the night in the house where she was born, a remote place of no streetlights and river rock roads. I saw only pitch black darkness from the window. And the sounds were a profound comfort for me -- a nightlong mercy symphony from fields and woods filled with crickets, katydids and frogs.

Before leaving, my mother, an aunt and I stopped by the cemetery. I placed a dime by the temporary marker, a private hello. That's because my dad would distract me from childhood vaccinations by putting a coin in front of me at the exact moment the nurse pushed a needle into my arm.

I had been a trooper until then, channeling my father's best social self for long hours in public. Helping my mother with decisions I knew my dad would want.

But then my mother, standing dry-eyed by his freshly dug grave, put down a small flower arrangement and said softly, "Well, I brought you home." And she quickly walked away.

My heart cracked open.

I sat in the car and cried in silence for several minutes. We did not speak, the three of us, the new widow, her older sister and I. Then I started the car and drove through silent headstones and tombs, back to my aunt's house and then to Alabama. I continued to hear my father, although his voice was fading with each day.

I stayed in my hometown for two more days. My mother flies into high gear to cope. I need down time. Not sleeping, hours of driving, going on my mother's manic missions. These included returning flimsy pie pans meant to be thrown out, to the surprise of people who brought food in them specifically so we did not have to take them back. I was worn out.

My siblings live in the same town with my mother, so she had company and help. She wasn't bereft. She was energized, hyper, keeping herself busy. We were starting to grate on each other. So I left. At the airport when I got back, J. met me, folded me into his long arms and brought me home. I really slept for the first time in nearly a week.

I talked to my friend L. I told her I thought I was losing my mind, hearing my father and his truck pulling into the driveway. She said she heard similar things after losing both her parents, a year apart.

I was relieved, to say the least.

That's because L. doesn't believe in the woo woo. She is not given to fancy, belief in the supernatural, things not scientifically nailed down and the like. Once, after she had surgery, I drove her home from the hospital, installed her on a couch, and turned on a relaxation tape of flutes and babbling brook, birds singing, etc., thinking she would find it peaceful and, well, healing.

We were quiet for a bit. Then she said:



"You are SO weird."

But this is what she said about "hearing" our relatives after they had passed away. Or something to this effect: "It was like there was a scrim or a curtain of gauze between this world and the next. And my parents had gone just beyond that curtain. And I felt like I could reach out and almost touch them, but not quite. And that they could touch me if they wanted to. But they didn't. And wouldn't. Because I didn't want them to."

She said the feeling lasted a few weeks. Then one day she realized the curtain was gone and so was the feeling that her parents were just there, behind it. She felt their souls had moved on, to where they were supposed to go. That this process just took a while, longer than we had been taught to believe.

And it was like that for me too. In time, I didn't hear my father.

Except for one last time.

A few months after he died, I had a dream about him.

In the dream, the telephone rang. My father was calling. He was dressed in his blue and white seersucker suit, his summer dress up outfit. In his hand, he held his white hat with the tiny pearl pin in the hatband.

I told him we had been extremely worried, looking for him everywhere. He was laughing, telling me not to fret. He chatted a bit, he was on a trip. Healthy and fine. The charming, gracious father, the one with his best foot forward, bad moods nowhere in evidence.

"I am fine. Everything is good. I am doing very well."

And that was that.

So, I was not with him when he passed away like his other children and my mother, even his friends at the restaurant, the ones he shook hands with on that last day. But during my last visit, we had gone to a movie together, as reader Rebekah said, a sort of special goodbye that he had suggested and completely out of character. Then he seemed to stick around for a while, for me. And he came to tell me goodbye again, in a dream.

But I hate goodbyes. I don't say them.

I will, instead, be leaving a dime in this spot and that when I think about my father. That's my decided response to this whole thing, once and for all. Finally.

The random dimes are me saying, "Well, hey there daddy."

I won't be saying any goodbyes.


  1. It's true or story?If is true,I'm sorry about it.
    God bless us.

  2. Yes, it did happen, Sweet. But he had a long life, overall a very good one. But thank you.

  3. Glimmer- I've been thinking about you. I hope all is well.

    This was a sad post but I'm glad to know he had a good life. Death is never easy to take though, regardless, because we still miss them.

  4. Sherri: It's been good to "talk" it out. Thank you for listening. Even more for caring.

  5. is uncanny how I can share some of your life! Not exactly but I can't wait to read more of your postings. When my stepfather passed away there were times I sensed him in my house. I wasn't scared but I wanted to look for him. I have been out and seen a man from the side or back that reminds me of him and I am drawn to stare at him till he faces me to prove it is not him. I have smelled his after shave cologne in a crowded place and still looked for him...all pleasant and of longing for him to be here....I like your dear dime markings....