Posted in Being human, death, Death & Mortality Series, family

Saying goodbye to my dad.

Towards the end of 2014 was also the end of my dad’s life. He died at home. In his last few weeks, he couldn’t speak anymore. I was too sick to travel all the way across the country and into my parents’ house in the middle of the mountains. So I was the only member of our immediate family who couldn’t come to see him in person. And I couldn’t speak either.

We’d been doing video chats on Skype a lot. He’d talk, and I’d type, but mostly we just hung out and loved each other. But now neither of us could talk and he couldn’t type either.

When he became unable to talk anymore, my mom set up their laptop on my dad’s hospital bed, and started Skype video chats for us. Instead of talking or typing, we just stared at each other, and loved each other. And that’s how we said goodbye.

I never knew there were any photos taken at the time, but during the hospital stay after I broke my back a second time, my mom sent me this photo of me and my dad Skyping. I’m really glad to have these memories. I’m really glad we had the chance to say goodbye. I feel amazingly lucky for that.

My dad lying in a hospital bed doing a Skype video chat with me on a small laptop.

When he died, he sent me a chunk of his beard hairs. (When I was little, he always let me play with his beard and his loose skin.)

I have been wearing those in floating lockets ever since, and they’re really beautiful. Photos don’t do them justice. But I’m able to walk around with a piece of his beard worn as jewelry every day. My mom sent some more beard when I was in the hospital, because somehow in the lead-up to the hospital stay I lost my other locket, and my spare beard hairs are in a drawer somewhere inaccessible to me right now. So when she sent the other beard hairs, I was able to put them in a new locket. I’m equally grateful to have something physical and tangible to remember him by any time I want to. Beard hair is more durable than memory sometimes.

My father’s grey beard hairs in a circular metal floating locket.

And I’m really glad to have a father who understood how much can be said without saying it, who knew how to communicate using objects, and who spent his last days doing his best to love as much as he possibly could.

Posted in Being human, death, family, joy

My cat has scattered my dad’s memorial shrine again.

There’s very little he’ll leave alone, if given the chance.

My father's memorial shrine, with the picture knocked off-kilter, only one rock out of dozens, and a few of his childhood belongings including a small denim treasure bag and a couple wooden toy swords. The slide rule is not visible, and the other slide rule is missing. Lots of things are missing or moved from where they should be.
My father’s memorial shrine, with the picture knocked off-kilter, only one rock out of dozens, and a few of his childhood belongings including a small denim treasure bag and a couple wooden toy swords. The slide rule is not visible, and the other slide rule is missing. Lots of things are missing or moved from where they should be.

But the more I think about it… I like having a memorial shrine, I will put it back together again, but the cat will knock it over again unless I buy some museum putty or something, which I’m not sure I’m willing to do.

And the more I think about it, the more fitting it is that my dad’s things are sometimes all over the house, reminding me of him in everyday life.

I sleep with his rocks in my bed.

I wear his clothing.

I find things he owned everywhere.

I use his tools.

I’ve said before that objects are my best form of communication.  With my father, this is true.  All of his things don’t just each remind me of him. Each one had a specific relation to him.

Taken together, they point back to who he was with the precision of a laser beam.

And they will do that whether they are properly arranged on the shrine or scattered everywhere by the cat.

And I love remembering my father.  I love finding him in my current life, in who I have become.  I love relating to him in an ongoing way even though he is dead.  Because who he was can’t be erased and his influence on the world still exists and will always exist.

I don’t idealize him the way some people do when someone dies, though.  I remember the worst parts about him.  But I don’t feel like I’d be remembering him if I did otherwise.  It would feel like an insult to his memory to turn him into an image of something he never was.

But I also don’t feel the horrible feelings most people expect with grief, for the most part.  I feel like he is still in my life, just not present.  His things remind me of who he was, and his influences and actions ensure he’s still around in everything I do.  I still have an ongoing relationship with him.  Most of the time I remember him with joy.

Bottom line is, I love my father.  And maybe sometimes overzealous kittens make you put things in perspective.  Remembering my father is not confined to one part of the house, it is integrated into my life.  Memorial shrines are a good thing, don’t get me wrong, but having them disrupted can make you think.

 

Posted in cats, death

Death can’t erase Nikki from the world.

Nikki in a kittyloaf position staring straight at the camera.
Nikki in a kittyloaf position staring straight at the camera.

Once you have existed, nothing can erase you from existence.

I’ve been thinking about Nikki.  Nikki is always in existence because she can’t be removed once she is there.  She may not be here, in this place, this time, where we can see her.

But she is here when she was kitty larva.

And she is here when she was a kitten exploring the world and forming her personality.

And she is here as she went into that gangly-legged elongated kitten phase.

And she is here as she became an adult cat, just barely.

And she is here as she matured into a real adult cat, and then matured further.

And she is here as she became middle–aged, for a cat.

And she is here as she got old.

And every single one of those things is part of her existence.

She is there sick and she is there healthy.

She is there in every mood she’s ever been in, everything she’s ever done.

It’s all indelibly marked onto the pieces of existence she was around for.

And somewhere in some other time those things always exist.

They can’t unexist.

And that’s besides all the people who cared about her, the people she cared about, the dog she fought with even over Skype, the trio of formerly-feral-kittens she grudgingly accepted and then loved and protected, the houses she protected, the Cat Things she got up to on her own that humans can’t possibly know about that had immense value to the world.

All of these things still exist because things don’t unexist just because time rolls on.

And now, she is buried just under the roots of a tree, and will physically go on to nourish all the things underground that will decompose her, and I think that’s beautiful.

And the less tangible aspects of who she was, that fiercely independent, stubborn, protective, dutiful on  her own terms, hard-to-sum-up personality she had, will go on in other ways just like she’s nourishing the plants and bacteria and fungus in the ground.  All those things get distilled into a particular expression of love that goes on to affect the world.  (This is not as separate from decomposition as it seems.  I’m working with the English language here.)

don’t just want to remember her when she was ‘in the prime of her life’ or something.  Everyone always wants to do that for some reason.  I want to remember her at every phase of her life.  I want to remember her when she was dying just as much as I want to remember her before that.  And I want to remember her during the long phase of chronic health problems that went on years before her death.  Like most people, she wasn’t always healthy, and pretending that part of her life didn’t happen doesn’t work for me.  She’s everything she ever was at every stage of her life, not just one piece of it.

I have my own ideas about what goes on (or not) after death, but they’re only ideas, and that’s all any of us can have.  I think people can forget how individual and powerful and not-to-be-fucked-with-sacred and important each person’s death is.  Death makes life possible, is impossible to separate from life, and is not the enemy.  But life matters.

And… most of what I’m talking about here, doesn’t require any particular set of beliefs about what happens after death.  Just that if you take time a certain way, the way we exist now is marked upon existence forever, both in right now and in the ripple effects we cause, which never go away.

So Nikki is gone, to us, right now, and that is cause for grief at the separation.

But all through her life, every moment of her life, is still there in the time Nikki was in when she was alive.  And everything and everyone she affected is still being affected.  And in those ways she can’t be un-existed just because she’s dead.

I’ve been meaning to write a series of posts about how I think about death.  Which is extremely complicated in some ways.  But this is how I feel when someone I know dies.  And this is how I feel about Nikki right now.