Tuesday, September 20, 2011


Last week was twenty-one years since my dad died.  I can tell you in vivid detail what that day was like.  I can tell you about waking from a sound sleep by a ringing phone, that the soul can fly away before you even put your key in the ignition, that six siblings and their spouses crammed into a hospital room at four in the morning.   I can tell you about my heartbroken Mom who thanked God for taking away the pain.  That before I left that room, I leaned into my dad's ear and said, "Just let us know that you're o.k. when you get settled."  I can tell you everything, but I can't tell you what my dad's voice was like because I no longer remember.

My parents lived in the same neighborhood for more than forty years.  Across the street lived Ed and Doll and their two girls.  Nancy and I were best friends (she says in utero), drifted apart in high school and then back together when we got older.  We were a big family, they were small.  My dad worked for the Edison Company as a safety manager, Ed worked for the same company as a lineman.  Their house was neat and tidy, ours was bursting at the seams and usually messy.   My dad was a DIYer with a garage full of tools, and he never hesitated to lend them to Ed, which wasn't the case with other neighbors.  You can tell a lot about a person by the way they take care of their tools, is what Dad said. 

Dad's last summer was a daily progression of life slipping away.  It was also filled with acts of kindness that can still make me cry all these years later.  Ed and Doll were acts of kindness.  Every day one or both of them would stop by, check on my mom to see if she needed anything, pop their head in to ask Dad how he was faring, offer to bring the garbage cans to the curb.  They showed up when showing up was not for the faint of heart.   Mom was always grateful, and when she cleaned Dad's things out after he died, she gave his red tool chest to Ed.

Doll had health issues of her own.  She had suffered her first stroke in her 40's, and years later, a series of mini-strokes followed by another major one.  After many weeks of watching her in a coma, Ed made the decision to remove her feeding tube and let her go.  Nancy would say that her father murdered her mother.  I didn't see it that way, but Nancy wasn't in a listening mood when it came to her father.  The last time she saw him was at her Mom's funeral, and they never spoke.

A few years ago, Ed wrote a letter to Nancy in hopes of trying to find some middle ground in their relationship.  I made his case, said your mom would be devastated to think this is what became of her family, that you are showing your kids that resolving conflict is kicking somebody out of your life, and maybe they'll do the same to you one day.   I begged her to hear him out, but she never responded.

I eventually gave up, and our friendship has withered away as a result.  I gave up because she told a story that made her dad out to be a heartless, cruel man who tossed his wife aside like a cigarette butt.  I gave up because I saw that same man stoically come into my parents' home every day, cheerful and helpful, and then cry on his way back home.  I gave up because death is full of emotional landmines, and the ones surrounding the end of her mother's life weren't just targeting her. 

I gave up because listening to her litany of accusations was too much when all I longed to hear was the sound of my own father's voice.


  1. You get me every time..... I can't remember the sound of his voice either.

  2. Beautifully written.

  3. Kathy -
    I told you some time ago,
    that good things make me cry.
    A good book - song - movie , etc.
    " 21 " Just did it to me again.
    Your Dad would be proud.