Upon losing you, my first coherent thought was that you had never not been here. You’ve been with me all of my days. All of my days.
Everything started and ended with one sunny Saturday. I answered my phone and realized I knew nothing, nothing, nothing about how this world works. One random day my brother murdered my father, I still have to remind myself.
I remember every second of the day we held your cold hands, heard the echo of dirt clashing against wooden coffin.
One day we packed your life into trash bags and boxes, stared one last time through the window of your home turned crime scene. I marveled at how it had been scraped of floors and paint and ceilings. Everything was bright white. Someone’s sweaty work hurried to cover up your messy death.
There were days I put on a brave face, but more days than those I couldn’t look a person in the eyes without mine spilling over, when the hurt was too close to the surface. I spent those days hiding.
Other days I remember to eat breakfast. I brush my hair and feed my son. I manage to laugh & have a conversation with a friend and for those minutes or hours I am mostly normal. On these functioning days, I glance at your picture fast, quick, quick. Just long enough to smile at you but not long enough to think about how much you are gone. I’m learning to take these days as the new Good Ones, where I delicately gather up what is good today without letting my mind down the big, black hole of what happened yesterday.
The days many kind-hearted people told me about beauty from ashes and God’s perfect plan, I bit bruises into my tongue to keep from screaming at their misguided condolences. I wanted nothing more than to show them your battered, bloodied body. I would point a furious finger and ask them “Tell me, where is this holy?”. Those were days I stayed exhausted from nodding, nodding, saying sweetly “thank you”. But I do thank them because you would, because they still care even if their kindness rubs a wound.
Sundays at church, I tried to decide if we were all betrayed by God or if I got Him and His promises all wrong to begin with. I decide it doesn’t matter. I sit outside with my chin to the sky, palms turned up and stretched out, tears streaming down my face. I am still reaching for you or God or any Father to pick me up and hold me. I must trust enough in something.
After 60 days we sat in Mom’s front yard, too emptied out for tears. We stared flatly as they wheeled her body away, realizing only too late that your death was hers, too. A Wednesday in September we learned that that one Saturday in July was her last heartbreak. All of her days. All of her days, too.
Those first holidays without you both, we cooked too many casseroles and gathered normal as we could be. We flurried around and tried to ignore the empty chairs. These are the days you seem to be missing MORE. These are the days when other people’s tidy families seem to hurt our feelings. We put the focus, then, on your grandbabies. They shoulder a responsibility they know nothing of: to be our saving grace and only happy distraction. Opening gifts and running sugared laps around the house, we try to borrow their joy.
Amid several cold, hard days I cried tears of real joy. I learned we would have a baby. My growing bump became Baby Good News. I focus on this new life on the days when the Done Lives overwhelmed me. I rub my belly and look ahead to a sweet August day when this little boy will arrive & share your name. Something tells me he’s come from where you are.
On pretty days I go to your grave. I clean the bronze plate & bring you artificial flowers and some part of me knows that this is silly, but more of me feels like my options for showing you care are pretty limited these days. So, I leave fake orange daisies in a vase and assure myself I’m a good daughter still.
One day not long ago, I sat cross-legged, head down, and wept over your grave. A lady was visiting a plot nearby and came over to me. Without pause she wrapped her arms around me and prayed words for help and peace and calm. There are these days when people swooped in like angels come to set me back on my feet. A note in the mail, a meal prepared, stopping by to see how I am doing, an embrace from a kind stranger, these gestures small but mighty save. They come with an understanding that this is the closest I get to you now, being around these people who help for no reason. Oh you’d be so proud of them.
Just Monday we sat in a courtroom and watched your beloved boy admit to killing you. His eyes were hollowed out, his hair matted, his skin sallow and I thought, for the first time, that I was glad you were not here to witness the waste and ruin of your only son. It would’ve killed you. I cried selfish tears realizing this legal conclusion offers us no real relief. You don’t mistake a verdict for a victory when your parents are still dead. There are no trophies to pass out. I cried tears for you as some monotone lawyer read off the facts of your heinous death. I cried tears I can’t figure out, not for the monstrous killer in the courtroom but maybe the little boy he used to be, the one you loved and lived and died for. This was hard amongst hard days.
We’ve walked through these hundreds of heavy days with gritted teeth, bracing ourselves for the end again.
And here we are.
Today you have been gone for one year, Dad.
Here is the hour, the minute, the second you saw your son and understood he would be the death of you. This was the time your precious head cracked against hammer, the throat that held your sweet laugh was slashed and slashed again. This was the day your blood would spill and climb the walls. This was when you would be left in the quiet horror, alone. And by your broken self, this was the moment of your last, aching breath. This was the minute I would’ve most loved to hold your hand. This was the day of your death, and how I’ve spent so many days since stunned by it.
This will always be the day the sun shone, the son murdered, the world outside your door kept spinning without you. Impossibly, we are left here hundreds of days since July 10th received its brutal, sacred meaning.
I look ahead with sadness and worry and doubting trust and some small spark of hope that these days will happen just like they have: not all good, not all bad, but all missing you. We will endure the missing and learn to enjoy some of the days. We’ll cry when the tears come and cook too much food and pray desperate prayers and follow them with thankful prayers. We’ll shoulder the disappointment of how things should’ve been but boast accomplishment in still standing despite the catastrophe around us. I will look in trees and stars and wonder where exactly you are. I’ll still reach palms up and out for you. I’ll miss you so ferociously some days my bones will shake and I’ll think for the hundredth then thousandth time that this broken heart could kill me. But it won’t, Dad. I’ll go to church on Sunday morning and question God’s motives on Sunday night. We’ll watch your grandbabies grow and wear their joy until it fits more like our own, more like the kind we felt when we were young and you were the gentle center of our world. I will stay troubled by your death. I will forever stay proud of your life. I will remember all of your days before the last and love you all of my days after . All of my days, Dad. All of my days.
March 10, 1957- July 10, 2014