I am reminded of the work of poet Sharon Olds. Her book, The Father, is an extraordinary, intimate yet familiar look into her experience of her father's death. It's odd that I would call it familiar since the death of my own father was so drastically unlike her long, introspective detailing of his gradual decline from illness to death and afterward.
by Sharon Olds
The doctor said to my father, “You asked me
to tell you when nothing more could be done.
That’s what I’m telling you now.” My father
sat quite still, as he always did,
especially not moving his eyes. I had thought
he would rave if he understood he would die,
wave his arms and cry out. He sat up,
thin, and clean, in his clean gown,
like a holy man. The doctor said,
“There are things we can do which might give you time,
but we cannot cure you.” My father said,
“Thank you.” And he sat, motionless, alone,
with the dignity of a foreign leader.
I sat beside him. This was my father.
He had known he was mortal. I had feared they would have to
tie him down. I had not remembered
he had always held still and kept quiet to bear things,
the liquor a way to keep still. I had not
known him. My father had dignity. At the
end of his life his life began
to wake in me.
Here's how my father's death goes:
He's alive and well, in New York playing in a bridge tournament at the Gotham Hotel. My mother and I are in Howard Johnson's in Princeton getting ice cream. We use the pay phone to call him. Turns out he's dead. I'm nineteen. On our way home my mother hands me a pill to take and I do. I do? What was I thinking? It's Librium, apparently her chosen way of experiencing the world. So not only is my father dead but I can't even feel it. Weird.