He received his death sentence on September 13th and it was carried out on October 26th of last year. Grueling days at the time, now seem like a distant, foggy memory.
Shortly after my father died of cancer, a friend and I were discussing his death. She said that as we grow older, grief becomes more and more a part of our lives. Maybe I’ll get better at it.
I keep meaning to look up the stages of grief on the Internet, but I never do. It seems useless because I continually jump between so many emotions. I’m sure some chart will not be able to help me divine when I’ll eventually be through with my grief.
His death in many ways was like the birth of my firstborn. I looked toward both events with trepidation, and in looking back there was no way I could have ever imagined life afterwards. All the rules changed instantly and forever, both times.
I see my father in the holes of a life left behind. In his obvious absence; light bulbs need to be changed, windshield wipers need to be replaced, the horses are lonesome, guns are uncleaned and my mother does not feel safe anymore in her own home.
My family often speaks of him in the present tense. He is everywhere I look and when he’s not there I look at my hand and see the ring he gave to me on his deathbed and again he is there.
It was strange how people came to call after his death. Sometimes close people were absent and distant strange people would come, then I would recall their own recent hurt being similar to my own and soon made the connection. Often it really wasn’t the death of my father that compelled them to call but due to their own grief for some deeply missed loved one. Maybe they had a better idea of what I was about to go through because of their own loss and could be more compassionate than those who knew me better.
In life, my father in many ways was an amazing man. He bought an old dozer out of a junkyard, rebuilt it, and then ran it for 14 years. Hell, he raised a family from his perch upon that hulking machine. How many times it was moved to a new job, how many young boys came to watch him in awe, how many lunches did my mother bring to him, all the while that piston that he placed in that engine with his own hands, was moving up and down, up and down.
Often he pulled a large earthmoving pan that scooped up dirt and deposited it somewhere close by. In my mind’s eye I can see the black smoke roll out of the stack when that pan was almost full and cutting deep. The engine would lug down to where you would almost swear that this time it’s going to stall, but then he would pull a lever and the fully laden dozer would slowly increase its rpm’s, the smoke would clear and he would cart the dirt towards its destination. Up and down, up and down.
In the woods he may have been the most at home, either on the back of a horse that very few people could ride or walking the hills following the sound of a “tree dog” hunting for squirrel. As a boy I would watch him fly fish for bluegill in the family’s pond, but only when they would be nesting. I once saw him bring in over twenty fish in about forty five minutes. He did these things well into his seventies.
This morning my youngest son told me he had a dream. He dreamed that he was riding horses with my oldest son and I in the woods. My father passed us on horseback. My son said he asked us if we had just seen what he had seen and we said yes. My father rode on ahead, stopped and was speaking to another man on horseback. As we drew closer, it became apparent that the man was an Indian and my father was speaking in the Indian’s native tongue.
Maybe that is dad’s heaven, riding horses in the woods, speaking to Indians in their native tongue. I would like to think so.
In life, my father was bigger than life and now in death he is bigger than death.