It doesn’t make sense that it’s been an entire year. It’s unbelievable to me that you’ve been gone for that long. A year is such a long amount of time, but it went by so fast. Too fast. I need the time to stop passing because it means you keep getting farther and farther away from me.
365 days ago I was sitting on the couch watching a game show while you laid in your hospice bed, unresponsive. The previous night had been rough, and something inside of me knew. Before I went to bed that night, I kissed you and held you and whispered sweet everythings in your ear. I knew how much you were suffering and how strong you were trying to be for all of us. I knew it was all too much. I whispered to you that it was okay to let go. I promised you that mom and I would be okay; that we’d be strong and we loved you more than anything. I whispered that you were the best dad I could’ve ever asked for and that I’d never ever let you go. I don’t know if you heard me but I have to believe that you did.
Morning came and you fell deeper into nothingness. As I watched you lying there I became so angry that this is how it was all going to end. A beautiful Saturday morning with you stuck inside in bed. You were always incapable of sitting still for very long. You were always outside doing something. Why weren’t you outside, now? I grabbed my headphones and placed them on your ears. Listening to me sing was one of your favorite things, and so I played the cd of my songs for you. You didn’t react but I know you heard me and maybe that’s what you had been waiting for because not long after, your breaths became slower, and labored. I knew what was happening and I could barely speak. I think I told mom that you couldn’t breathe, but I can’t really remember anymore. I watched you. I couldn’t help you. I couldn’t do anything. It was the most beautiful and precious and horrifying and heartbreaking thing I’ve ever witnessed but I couldn’t let myself look away. I had to see you go. I had to watch you and listen and feel it and you needed to know that I was there and that I saw you and that you weren’t alone.
Your final breath was such a deep inhale. It was as if you were trying to fill yourself up with everything you had ever loved; every memory. Every hug and kiss, high five’s after a basketball game, fishing on the river, morning walks with Ace, Friday night football games, sunny days at the beach, motorcycle rides, morning coffee with your boys, flowers from your garden, all the songs I’ve ever sung. You wanted to take it all with you. I watched your eyes close. I remember letting out a panicked “No,” and then saying “It’s okay, you’re okay,” over and over and over. I didn’t want you to feel bad for having to go. I remember nuzzling your face and kissing your neck and your ears and your forehead and your eyes and your nose. I remember getting off of my knees and sitting on the bed with you and wrapping your hands around mine and not letting them go. I didn’t let them go until people that I didn’t know made me let you go. I was so mad at them, and your hands were stiff and had lost their warmth. It was difficult to untangle our hands and I knew you didn’t want to let go either.
Days passed and your funeral came. I remember walking into the gymnasium and seeing it filled with people. I remember feeling so proud. So, so proud of you, Dad. I wanted to show you how many people loved you. Did you see all of them? Everybody loved you so much. I remember that I sang and gave a speech and I don’t know how I did that. I think I was in shock. I remember lots of people saying the nicest things but I don’t remember now what any of those things were. I remember lots of smiling and laughing and trying to be strong. I remember a never-ending line of people wanting to hug me, and feeling like I couldn’t hug another person; it was just all too much. I remember someone making me sit down and eat some food. I didn’t want to eat any food because it made me feel guilty that I could eat, and hug, and smile and breathe and laugh, and you couldn’t.
More days passed, and they keep passing.
The house has been so quiet since you left. People ask me why I don’t go home more often, and I don’t know what to say to them. It hurts me. It’s so painful. It’s so deep-down, bone-crushing achey to pull into the driveway and see your truck parked there. To see Ace run out and greet me with his tail wagging in excitement. Does he think it’s going to be you, every time someone pulls in? He misses you. Your garden is still there and mom weeds it for you and she is trying so hard for you and it’s gut-wrenching and I don’t know what to do with the heaviness on my heart.
Everything is still there. Everything but you.
I never know what to do when I’m home anymore, but I always go into your bedroom. The memory of the last time I saw you in there is so vivid.
I was going to take you to get coffee, at the place downtown you used to go every morning with the guys. You hadn’t been in awhile because your body was just too tired. You went in your room to change out of your pajamas. After several minutes I walked down the hallway and peered in, to check on you. You were sitting on the edge of your bed, struggling to get your shirt over your head; defeated. Your back was to me and I could see every bone, every vertebrae of your spine. Your skin was so thin and transparent, you almost didn’t look human. In that moment I felt my heart break. I felt pieces of it shatter and the pieces pierced my insides and felt like searing, hot pain all throughout my body. I tried to keep it together when I asked you how you were doing but you were feeling the same way I was, and for the first time since your cancer diagnosis, I saw you break down. Your boney shoulders shuddered as you wept and whispered to me that you just wanted to be able to put a shirt on. I wanted to squeeze you so tightly and bury your face in my neck but I didn’t want to hurt you. I held you, but gently, and I felt all of your bones trying to pierce me. I would’ve torn my own flesh off that very second if it would’ve filled in all of your empty spaces. I tried to crack a joke as I helped you put your shirt on and you tried to muster a laugh as you helped me wipe my tears. Did you know that would be the last time you would ever go out for coffee? The last time we would ever go for a drive together? I had never seen you so vulnerable in my entire life and there was nothing that I could do except love you with everything I had and hope that would be enough to save you.
Your clothes are still hanging in the closet and I always bury my face in them. They still smell like you, Dad. I wrap myself up inside of them and close my eyes. I pretend that you’re holding me as I take deep breaths in. And for a moment, I feel you there with me.
I need it to be 365 days ago, so that I can be at your bedside, holding your hands and trying to memorize the freckles and scars on them. I need it to be 365 days ago so that I can tell you I love you not just one time, but a million times. I would tell you and I wouldn’t ever stop telling you.
It will never be 365 days ago.
But I will breathe. Deep breaths. Keep breathing.
“And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always irregularly.
Spaces fill with a kind of soothing, electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never to be the same,
whisper to us. They existed. They existed.
We can be, and be better.
For they existed.”