A few weeks before my dads last hospitalization....the one to rehab the hip he would break.....the one where his heart would finally stop...I picked him up and drove him to Beth David Cemetary to visit Kim's grave. Mom had been urging him to go. To get some closure. To pay the respects that she was unable to make the trip for.
He'd aged twenty years in the months since we buried his only other child. Dads chip off the sad, old block. He was speaking in whispers now and his only sparks of strength were spent on doing for mom. He was done living, if not for bringing her cold drinks, helping her to the bathroom, sitting beside her, watching TV.
He didn't want to go with me. He asked what good it would do. Said that he had nothing to say. That it could not help. That he couldn't handle it.
It was early winter and I easily found the remote spot in the vast grid of oaks and stones.....I'd been visiting. I held him under his free arm and he poked the ground with his cane as we walked over broken rocks and sad ivy and when we came to the place where my grandmother lay we stopped for a moment to pay respects and then stepped sideways to face the stone next to hers. Grandma Elsie had willed my brother a cemetery plot. We used to laugh at the morbidity of such a thing.
The inscription I'd commissioned reads, "Beloved son, brother and friend. Lover of music and laughter".
The Russian guy at the tombstone store sniggered when he read my application and said, "Lover? Dats not correct English, yes? Lover is means like for woman. Right?" He kept looking at me as if I was up for a critical edit of my brothers epitaph. When he didn't move on, I asked him if there were different words in Russian that could be used to describe affection for things other than romantic love. Was the Russian word for romantic love romance-specific? And were strong positive feelings for other ideas and objects described using any other adjectives? And was there a single word that could be used to cover such a strong feeling of affection for many different...non-romantic....things?
He didn't like my questions so henceforth I ignored his, and "Lover of music and laughter" it remained.
Stepping forward I said, "Hey big brother. Look who's here".
I put my arm around Dads' shoulder and we were quiet.
It was chilly and life mostly sucked but I felt peaceful there, loving my father and creating this space for him to maybe love Kim for the last time.
One of the many cats that frequented the cemetery strode by and I kissed the air at her twice and she lifted her shoulder and walked on her toes and rubbed up sideways against a stone and kept walking. If this was all there was to death, I thought, at least they have cats.
Ten minutes maybe and I wanted to go and shuffled and squeezed Dad a little. He moved forward just a bit, straightened up and spoke, as if into a mic. "What didn't I do for you?".
Shit. I reminded him that this was not his fault.
"Of course it's my fault. I'm the father!"
I asked him not to do that but couldn't help it.
We walked back to the car and held hands as I drove.
In the coming months and years I'd get a tiny bit of distance from the carosoul of constant emergency that was this family then and I began to wonder if maybe it was true. Maybe it was....at least partially...my fathers fault that my brother was dead. Maybe agreeing with the social workers to send him to Hawthorne (reform school, where he learned how to be a real delinquent from other, more seasoned juvenile criminals) drowned my brothers breaking heart and reminded him night after night that he was not welcome at home. That he was defective. Fragile Dad couldn't handle Kim's behavior and the baby (me) had to be their first priority now.....needed protection from him. I'm still not sure what he did to me....there was an old letter I found written from Mom to Kim , but it was vague. Something about Dad not being well and about them having to protect me from Kim and how this whole thing was sad and how she was sorry. Maybe, because Dads threshold for upset was retarded and his rage was central to his voice, this took the place of the love a son needs and deserves. Maybe this was all his son absorbed leaving nothing to help him grow or to thrive. Nothing to point him toward the light nor the courage with which to push through. No vessel nor safe harbor.
Maybe it WAS his fucking fault.
I revisit this stuff so that I can get a percentage of the weight of these challenging memories off of my chest. Out of my nightmares. Take this fodder I store for my next depression and burn it with last seasons overgrowh. Start fresh.
I'm not sure it's working. In fact, its a rather brutal exercise....not only going back there, but seeing things I never thought to look at and lightbulbs going on left and right, shining on bits and shadows that might have been better left to face value.
And I know that I am the one bearing the burdon here. Dad is dead and will never be able to make it right. Kim is dead and will never be able to heal. To overcome his shortcomings. Mom....Tommy....Francis...angels and demons flutter from my archives and beg to be reconciled. Understood.
And I labor to just allow life to be imperfect. Tragic. Sad. Because, among other things, it is. How many people suffer over there as we rejoice over here and we know it yet we extract some sense of gratitude from our circumstances? And isn't this ok? If our joy were dependent on the end of all sufferring, we'd be ruined.
I wonder if those who believe in an afterlife--where bliss is assured---are thus able to accept that sufferring exists because they "know" that there will be peace before long, for them and hopefully for others. I see the appeal.
I think that for the rest of us, we just need to be available to help and to love when the opportunity presents itself....to soak up the rainbows as well as the rain and to keep a keen eye open for everything good...but for the most part our respective jobs and missions are more thoroughly and precisely fulfilled if we are able to be ok with life being imperfect. With sufferring.
This somehow makes it easier to know that it sucked for Dad. And for Kim. They've suffered enough. And so have you and I.
And so I look toward the big, blue sky and although I can't exactly nail down what I feel, I imagine my father. And I say, "Its ok."