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 Front Door

I live in a converted barn.  When we first started working on it, I learned about supporting walls.  These are walls you can’t knock down unless you put a beam in, and walls you can’t move.  And walls that need a lot of structural support.

We had a few.  They were the bane of my existence.  There were walls where I didn’t want them to be.  Coming up with a floor plan was daunting. 

Finally, I had a Eurkea! Moment.  I found the floor plan that worked for everything I wanted except one thing. 

The main entrance to my house, the front door, opened into my kitchen.

This is just awkward. 

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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 instruments, 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.

These Are the Small Hours

Photo by Paula Campos on Unsplash

They used to call them the small hours of the morning. 2, 3, 4 am…. small numbers, big eyes.  All night long, I am up and down, rolling over, blankets on, blankets off, unable to sleep.  Brain churning.  Too late?  Too early?  To take a sleeping pill.  Tomorrow–.today is going to be hell.

The talk radio inside my head gets especially loud in the small hours.  I replay scenarios from the day, 10 years ago, my childhood, and ones that haven’t happened yet.  I worry.  I fret.  I’d bite my nails but I gave up that habit decades ago.

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