My father is a memory.

Breathe.

Just keep breathing. 

You can do this, you know you can, yes, breathe, in and out…

He was so handsome in his dress blues.  His hat, called a lid, on his chest along with the white gloves.  His sword at his side.  My mother said, “Still my handsome Marine.”

An officer and a gentleman to the end. 

I couldn’t touch him there in the casket.  I just couldn’t.  That other night, he was cold when I began mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.  Cold.  So wrong for him to feel that way.  I realized and quit.  Knowing it hopeless.

My father was always warm, his hugs enveloping me and spreading that warmth until it engulfed us both.  He loved me.  I him. 

And he died.

Suddenly.  It wasn’t expected.  We didn’t see it coming.  He was warm and breathing and then he was cold and still lying on the bathroom floor, lying in the casket in his dress blues.  Hat, gloves, and sword.  And medals.  His medals a mess – we didn’t know how to arrange them.  His Marine friend was too overcome with grief to do it for us.  So they weren’t even pinned on.  They were just sitting there.  Not quite a jumble, but it was as wrong as his death.

Which was also right.  He went out the way he wanted to.  No lingering illness.  No hospital.  Fine and then dead. 

Dead.

My daddy is dead.

I remember the next morning lying on my bed trying to escape the pain.  Trying not to think and finally just sinking into it.  Letting the hot burning grief fill me.  All his warmth was now a blaze of sadness.  Yes, a blaze.  Great leaps of flame touching every part of me.  The little girl who sat on his lap.  The teenager who rolled her eyes.  The bride who took his arm and walked down the aisle.  The new mother who handed him his grandson. The daughter standing by his coffin unwilling to feel that cold again.

All that pain.

Wrapped up tidy for the funeral in dress blues.

An adagio of emotion.  Still, quiet, cold building to the flames and then trailing off.  Dying.  Cold…. A memory. 

My father is a memory. 

My Beloved Sofa, My Beloved Grief

I have a beloved sofa.  The arms are very high.  I sit sideways with my knees bent and my feet on its newly upholstered surface.  I am wearing the ancient headphones – the curly corded ones that plug into the stereo receiver.  I have on jeans and a black t-shirt.  The lights are off except for the china cabinet.  The flames of a dozen candles also shadow the room.

I have a glass of cool Merlot.  A beautiful glass.  A full-bodied wine.

The Cowboy Junkies are filling my head.  And then AJ Roach.  And then Leonard Cohen.  And Robert Plant and Alison Krauss.  The official mourning albums.  Beautiful music, rich instrumentalization, stunning voices all with an underlying sadness.

I sink into the sofa.  I sink into my grief.  Those four CDs have lived in the player for years now.  The official mourning quartet. 

When sadness hits me, my first instinct is to avoid it.  Being busy.  Being social.  Being this, being that.  But I have learned that sometimes I just need to wallow in it.  Embrace the grief, the pain, the memories.

Eventually, the pain lessens, the memories make me smile and the grief becomes the love I can no longer share. 

When we reach the beauty of grief, I will sometimes play Mozart’s Jupiter.  Waving my hands in the air and conducting the invisible orchestra in my head.  Reveling in the joy of the notes.

Great pain can be beautiful.  A terrible beauty, a stark beauty, film noir.  And then it emerges transformed into a different beauty.  One to wrap my heart in.  Almost a joy to behold.

The garden that grief and anger built

Grief stole the garden that grief and anger built. 

I want it back.

As Doug was dying, he sat in the daybed by the bay window and watched me build the garden. He was so sick, and I had taken off work to be his caretaker. Sick though he was, I had many hours left to myself. 

I sat in my family room and looked at my bare backyard.  I had always planned a grand garden back there.  Over the years I had made periodic attempts at it but my midlife career as a full-time employee and full time college student didn’t let much happen. 

Now, I had time.  And, miraculously, I had money.

I began the garden.  I built a circular retaining wall to house daffodils, peonies, vinca and ivy.  I bought a water fountain — a very modern design — so unusual for me.  I planted dozens and dozens of white petunias and white double impatiens — I wanted the garden to glow in the moonlight.  I tended to the wisteria and brought it back from the brink. 

The white roses were pruned and fed.  The furniture painted.  New cushions procured.

As Doug lay dying, I poured my grief and anger into building the garden.

It was nearly complete, as complete as gardens get, when he was hospitalized for that last time.  Three weeks or so at the hospital.  The grass and weeds grew.

The night after he died, his daughter and I sat in the overgrown garden drinking wine and telling stories about him.  Tears flowed freely. 

The fireflies darted about the weeds and brush.  Music played softly.  The windchimes provided needed baritone to the cascading of the fountain.

It was such a lovely evening for such a cruel event.

As I took care of Doug’s estate and caught up with work, the garden was abandoned.  So much to do – the garden didn’t seem like a necessity.

Soon it was an overgrown mess.  I couldn’t catch my breath Couldn’t summon the energy to reclaim a garden on the edge of a forest from going wild.

I vowed to tend it as I realized what a necessity it was.

My dad died suddenly.  The day of his funeral, I cleared an area near the fountain and planted 13 Madonna lilies — a flower of significance to him. 

As I actively grieved him, I reclaimed the garden.  Dozens of petunias, impatiens and a white Mandevilla.  The Japanese climbing hydrangea bloomed for the first time.  I found solace in the garden.

And then my best friend died. 

And along with her, the garden. 

I lost my will to bring life out of death.

It is still neglected though it provides the sudden bloom now and again — mock orange, Peruvian daffodils, lily of the valley.

During the pandemic, I vowed to reclaim it.  But then I broke my foot.  And then I contracted COVID.

Oh, how I long to get back to the garden.  I dedicate it now to me.  I need its life force to revive mine.  It is now a necessity again.

Little Bright Blue Boat

Photo by Tobias Bju00f8rkli on Pexels.com

Safe in the little boat painted bright blue, I dip the paddle into the water now and again but am letting the water just carry me.  I wave to folks on the shore. I don’t know them, and they don’t know me.   I don’t have much strength, yet. 

Still. 

The river’s current is gentle.  I don’t know where the current is taking me.  I have been content to just drift down the river waving to folks as I head out alone. 

I am not well-provisioned.  This is an adventure – the river will provide or perhaps it won’t. I am not so much curious about what lies ahead as I am resigned.  There is no map, and I couldn’t read it if there were.  For a map to be useful one must know where they are and where they are going.  I don’t know either.  I did not plan this trip.  I did not choose the little bright blue boat.

The water called to me and there it was on the beach.

The little bright blue boat drifts toward the center of the river where the current is stronger.  Picking up speed, I now use the oars to steer the boat.  The surface of the water ripples with a wind gust and low clouds begin to move in. 

The little bright blue boat and I are on our way.