There was a college picnic planned for the day my dad died and I was determined I would be there. I turned up a little bit late considering I’d driven the 2 1/2 hour journey that Sunday morning in a daze, having not slept particularly well the night before after taking the nurse’s call from a deep sleep. “Is this Vickie?” she confirmed. “Yes,” I replied blearily, sitting up in my parents’ bed which I was using after graduating college. Dad was in the hospital so obviously didn’t need it, and he didn’t live there then anyways, and mom preferred the guest room at that stage.
“I’m very sorry, Vickie, but your father has died.” I wasn’t overly surprised, though I had been prepared for him to live for some time longer in a relatively vegetative state, only communicating via nods and the occasional grunt. And through his eyes; He always communicated through his eyes- Such regret, such sorrow, but always that tiny little beam of sunshine in the corner of his iris that was my daddy. I had resigned myself some weeks before to being his carer as my mom shouldn’t have to shoulder his burden after what he did and it felt as if my sisters had washed their hands of him telling me he was my responsibility since he left them at an early age and had put me through university.
To be honest, what welled up alongside the tears that began cresting from my eyes was relief. The saga of my dad’s sin we’d wallowed in for years was nearly over. The ball and chain of having to be nurse to him, putting everything I’d worked towards over the last couple years on hold indefinitely, was brought to a sudden yet not surprising end at that moment when I answered the phone. He just died. He didn’t let us know he was going to leave, although it was inevitable it would happen. He just did, as suddenly as a heavy book being slammed shut somewhere in the middle.
Before hanging up I asked the nurse to call his girlfriend and let her know. I despised that woman, more as a scapegoat over the last few months’ unfoldings, but still, she deserved to know and to grieve. I would not invite her to the funeral, but she needed to find a way to say goodbye.
I got my mom up in the room down the hall and told her he was gone. She cried but I could sense the room fill with the same relief I’d experienced. The same for the calls to my sisters who took it a bit harder being so far away. Yet there it was. Finished.
As planned, I woke up that morning and somehow put myself together, knowing I’d cry most of the way down the Pacific Coast, then pull myself together for a bit of a distraction, however I really hoped that people would ask and hug me and let me let loose the hot angry tears and emotions I’d bottled up for most of the last five years. He was gone, he was a bastard, and I missed him. But I had missed him for years, even when I was sitting beside him.
People didn’t really know how to handle someone rocking up to a merry summertime picnic with such grievous news. It was almost like they doubted it really happened. Why would I be there of all places if my dad just died. The driving, south and back north, that was the most cathartic part of the whole day. It most always is.
As the smoke from his life cleared, we worked our way through the funeral details, the service to be held at my mom’s church, his most recent place of attendance and the only place who accepted him whole-heartedly, while challenging his destructive behaviour. We would have him cremated, put into a box – nothing too fancy – and transport him through airport security and across six states to take his place in his state of birth, beside his mom who he lost the year before. She was his first and probably his greatest love, undoubtedly the one woman for who he had unswerving devotion.