Thoughts on Time & Loss
I wrote this back in January following a 20+ hour drive from Memphis, TN to Buena Vista, CO. I made a slight detour that morning to the cemetery my father is buried in Newcastle, AR.
August 13, 2015
The day you died
I watched your chest -
Broad even then -
Like a steady wave.
The oxygen tubes
Chaining you to the bed.
The day you died
We sat in silence
Waiting on a summer storm
That never dropped.
That August morning The Purple
Started at your toes, and crept
Like the ice that covers my windshield
This January morning
As we share gin in the cemetery.
The day you died your right eye
Opened once more and stretched out
Across these five months. I stare back,
And you're transfixed at the window.
Even in my periphery, you're resolute,
Your body arches towards the window.
My knees are stained
With Arkansas soil, muddied by gin.
You died this year, and I still watch you
Looking back across the chasm
With five breaths left. Four breaths left.
Three breaths left.
The Purple moves across your body -
A flag stretched taut by the wind and
Curls back into itself.
Dressed in your seersucker robe, the men
Wheel you to the van that night. We sit quietly
While the wind settles across the yard.
- written January 18, 2016
This past Saturday my mom, brother, and I spent the day together: laughter colored by tears, celebration grounded in sorrow.
One year’s passed since my father died, and grief & time still feel impossible to reconcile. In some respects, I ask myself how it’s only been a year since he died when it seems like there aren’t enough days in a year for the cacophony of emotions we’ve each felt. It seems impossible that there are enough hours in 365 days to account for the number of semi-present conversations or movies watched that I barely caught the premise, hours and days that seem squandered by numbness. Most years it only takes so many steps to reach 365, but this past year it has sometimes felt like swimming through mud to reach the same distance. How has it only been a year?
But more often it feels impossible that an entire year has passed. For months the image of my father staring back was constantly embedded into my peripheral vision. Not as a metaphor, not like a dream, and not as a metaphysical experience. It felt tangible, physical: time broke down and was imprinted by that moment. I carried it with me. It felt like if I just reached to my left a little farther I could hold his hand. If I only turned a little more to the right I would be sitting next to my mother and brother holding him as he drew a few more breaths. While so much has happened in these 365 days, those moments felt like they were (literally, not figuratively) just in the next room. I couldn't help but wonder that if time actually does slow when one dies - the 'life flashes before your eyes' thing - is he still living that out, sitting next to the window drawing another breath while we're experiencing time somewhat-normally? I know that it makes no sense, but if those moments really do feel that close, how has a year already passed?
My cousin Jesse has always said that time isn’t real. Maybe I’m coming to believe that.
While this grieving process has been brutal and transformative, it has also been beautiful and nurturing. Clearly still in it, I don’t necessarily have some greater understanding of grief: I don't have a great lesson to write about. Be present, show-up. Time doesn’t necessarily make anything better, but maybe it allows perspective, allows for acceptance (here I go again, contradicting myself on ideas about time). Maybe it’s simply this: we’re ok. Some days I might even say we’re getting a bit back to good. And then sorrow hits, and we’re just ok. It was really important to my dad that “we would be ok” when he died. It’s hard to say that things are great, these scars haven’t healed yet: that cavity in our chests, the empty chair at the dinner table, the drawn out pauses in conversations. But yeah, the three of us are getting around to the better side of ok.