It’s been one year since my dad died.
Although anniversaries haven’t touched me much in my life, I am schooled by how important this date of his exit is. In some cultures, they wait one year before certain traditions of release, of honoring. Being part of an unusual family of shattered and made up bonds, without many cultural traditions, I learned to make up my own rituals of importance. I will however pull from my Jewish roots and light a Yahrzeit candle, (which means “soul candle”) and I will sit in circle. I will talk to my father, in that sweet fragile language made up of prayer, imagination, longing, and unresolved conversations. One year of grief has changed me. I am not who I was before he died. I figured that would happen, but there are a few things that I never would have imagined, and I thought I might share them. 13 things I did not expect the first year that my dad died:
Writing has unfolded a powerful tool for me. It has become my tireless witness, my microphone, as I remember and lay down the story of my dad’s passing. The passion my dad had about Death with Dignity was a phenomenal experience, and his journey has inspired my voice to fall from my fingertips.
A lil’ excerpt from my book:
The first two minutes after arriving at their house, my dad got down to business. “Ok,” he whispered, his chest was already becoming paralyzed, which made talking, laughing and breathing extremely challenging.
“Ok . . . I have made some decisions and I want to see what you think about it all.” He explained to me that he had been diagnosed with Lou Gerrig’s disease and that at any time now he might become fully paralyzed. He asked if I knew about assisted suicide in Oregon, and informed me that he would like to die this way. He had no interest whatsoever in becoming paralyzed. Then he waited for my response to see how I felt about this. I was surprised that he didn’t already know that I supported him 100%, but that was the theme in our relationship, kindred souls who didn’t really trust what the other thought. He was relieved when I shared that I absolutely believe in euthanasia and the choice to die how we want. He was concerned that my brother would have some hesitancy because he is a paramedic-fireman, but once again, it was a fear projection. My brother Matt was fully on board.
After that five-minute conversation, he hunkered back in his cozy red velvet chair, piled high with four blankets and a cup of green tea, and began to direct. “There is a lot to do, we need to contact the doctor and the lawyer and the Compassionate Choices advocate.” He described the legal procedure of how to perform assisted suicide: a precise recipe of getting a doctor’s approval, lawyers’ signatures, waiting fifteen days, and getting the doctor’s approval the second time. The laws are set up to check the mental stability of the patient. Compassionate Choices is an Oregon-based group which helps families go through the process; they assign someone to your case similar to hospice.
My father started in with lists of what was left to be done; emails to write, books to order, the fabulous party he was going to throw that would be his last hurrah, AND the details of his moment to die. He had money to donate, organizations to contact, a speech or two to finish, as well as gathering the right people to receive the homework he needed to pass on: his legacy in the gaming world, and the in conflict resolution world – he had his teacher’s assistant to meet with, and books to sign. He had detailed plans for his party: who to invite, what food to have, how he wanted to spend his last few hours alive on this planet. He wanted his writers group to each write a piece to read, he wanted his mime troupe to perform, as well as lots of jokes, (of course he would tell the very last joke!) He wanted people to be able to share from the heart, and a party vibe. Complete with party horns and blow-out whistles, shots of Jamison for everyone while he drank his lethal medicine. He envisioned being with sixty of his closest friends, and that we would all to go back to schmoozing, drinking, even turning up the music to keep on dancing once he was dead!
My father wanted to die in the middle of a rocking party, the grand last show . . . with him as the MC, Star, Director and Producer. I would serve as his stage manager, set designer, DJ and hostess . . . and all of this laid out, in the first half hour after I had arrived.
So 365 days of grief, this first anniversary.
I will light the candle, and I will feel connected with all of the other members in The Dead Parent Club.
I will tell a joke for my dad, and will find a way to laugh real hard, because my Dad wanted everyone to know that death is awesome, that it can be a celebration of life.
And I will crank up the stereo to Papa’s got a brand new bag by James Brown, and remember that last dance with him . . . as we both shook what our Mama gave us!