Sitting in my friend’s living room this morning while her husband slept in a hospital bed beside us, we talked about the hospice services they’re using and about when people close to us died. She told me the dates of her parents’ deaths, both in 1999, and I told her the date of my father’s death which, as I remembered it, was today: January 18, 2003.
As I went through my day – teaching yoga, buying bananas at the store, getting my flu shot, mailing some packages – this anniversary stood in the background. My father died a relatively young man at only 63 after a very short (only four months between diagnosis and death) immersion in pancreatic cancer. I was in the middle of my own cancer treatment at the time, and actually had just had major surgery a few weeks before he died, but when Ken and I walked into his house where he had been in a coma for 10 days, it was clear he was waiting for me. He died 15 minutes after we arrived.
While I wrote of the death in more detail in my memoir, the fallout from his life and death continues to reveal itself. As time passed, I learn more about him and who I am because of him. Nine years later, I don’t exactly miss my father, but I do think of him — with affection (which was a big surprise after our tumultuous relationship all my life). If he were alive today, he would despise what’s happening politically but probably support Romney and call me an idealist for supporting Obama. He would be livid about the Wall Street bailouts since he was a self-made man, but he would have supported all the wars that happened in the last decade, probably advocating for more, not less. Beyond that, I can’t predict what he would be like at age 73 because his dying changed him so much, and so much for the better (although that was obviously short-lived).
What I do know from my experience and the experiences of my friends who have lost parents is that we carry our moms and dads in our hip pockets our whole lives (even back when they carried us), some fire from their personality, biology, karma, bad and good luck and choices, missteps and inspiring leaps tucked into some part of us no matter where we go and what we do. The relationship continues to unfold, and their voices continue to inform, question, argue and support.
Nine years ago from tomorrow, my father was buried in a steep grave in a hilly cemetery in western Pennsylvania, but his life and death travel with me. I wouldn’t have it any other way.