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One Year

“Oh dear dad, can you see me now

I am myself

Like you, somehow”

~Pearl Jam, ‘Release’

A year ago today, I came home after running a couple of quick errands to find Kobe, one of the hospice care attendants, sitting on the back steps of my house, crying softly. “You need to come upstairs right now,” he said.

My father was dead in his hospital bed. He’d been unconscious for three days at that point, his body withered, well under 100lbs, all the color drained from him. He was 74 years old, and looked 94.

It’s a strange thing, seeing your father’s lifeless body just lying there. Even when you know it’s inevitable, after 10 months of home hospice care and two years almost to the day when the oncologist casually told us that he had 18-24 months to live, it’s jolting.

It’s an image that never leaves you.

I wanted to remember him as he was, before the cancer and heart disease and kidney failure and depression joined forces to kill him. I wanted to remember the almost larger-than-life figure, whip-smart and impatient, funny as hell, kind and generous yet almost childlike in his selfishness. When he was at his heaviest, well over 230lbs on his 5’9” frame, he looked like a Jewish Jerry Garcia, a Semitic Santa Claus. Working 7 days a week, taking in 3-4 Red Sox games a week during the season, going to the theatre and the symphony, dining out every night. Not this ghost who spent the final year of his life in a rented hospital bed. Yet that’s the last image I have of him.

I miss him. I miss sitting with him, listening to his stories of growing up, the center of his parents’ universe and his unyielding devotion to them in turn. All of his road stories, his knowledge of every 5 & 10 in New England, the relationships he built through his insane devotion to his work. Work was his life’s passion. I miss his jokes. I miss watching Sox games with him, and hearing his TV blaring late into the night as he watched yet another ‘Murder, She Wrote’ marathon, wryly complaining that he’s seen them all 50 times. (ME: “Then why do you watch them again?” HIM: “Because I like it.”)

I miss picking up breakfast for him at McDonald’s on Sunday mornings. I miss seeing him feed Maxine pancakes and bacon. I miss shopping for his cranberry juice and applesauce and the small frozen meals the attendants would heat up for him.

Most of all, I miss being needed.

The last 12 months have been incredible. There’s been a lot of laughter mixed in with the sadness. There’s been a lot of personal growth, a learned awareness of how strong and resilient I truly am. There’s been travel and adventure and intimacy and other significant losses too. In other words, life.

There’s no time limit on grief. It comes on like a tidal wave and recedes just as quickly. You just endure it, and then let it go. Over and over.

I’m very much my own man, and very much my father’s son too. I live life on my terms, just as he lived his. Sometimes the price of it is a crushing loneliness, but I’ll take loneliness over boredom every time.

The next 12 months will see more changes for yours truly. More adventures, more writing, more of what makes me happy. “Fuck ‘em all,” as my dad said to me. “Do what makes you happy.”

Knowing I’m living up to that advice makes me happy.

I love you Dad. I miss you every day.


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