Two Years Gone: Ruminating on a Father’s Death

Vanity by Frans Francken the YoungerSo in less than two hours – if memory serves me – it will be exactly two years since your death. Two years in which so much has changed irrevocably, not the least of which is the fact that you are no longer here.

In some ways your death has been easier for me to accept and deal with than Mom’s; over here in Southeast Asia the ghosts have been largely quiet. They trouble me infrequently, and for that I am grateful. The only thing that haunts my dreams and disturbs my slumber is my usual angst over the usual things, and this, too, is rather rare these days, fortunately.

I’m not sure if this is because in those two years I’ve had the distractions of being laid off, moving half way across the world, and trying on a new career (which was an ill fit, to say the least). Perhaps it’s just because she died first, and I was at least somewhat prepared for what I was in for – as much as anyone ever is for the death of a loved one.

In any event, in spite of all this you are still never far from my thoughts even now. Even now I still sometimes catch myself thinking – for the tiniest and sweetest of instants – that I should call you, because it’s been awhile. This is becoming more rare with the inevitable passage of time, however. Even though it’s like a stab in the heart when I remember that you are dead, I still cherish those moments, in a small, twisted sadomasochistic way, because for that one brief moment it’s as if you are still alive.

And it’s a reminder, however painful, that no, I haven’t forgotten. Some cold comfort, in that.

Not too long ago I dreamed that I was back home in Cincinnati. As I lay in bed, drifting somewhere in that state that’s not quite sleep but not quite waking, I thought I was indeed still in Cincinnati; apparenlty the last two years were the dream. I remember thinking in that dim, somnambulistic state that it had been awhile since I’d gone down to Tennessee to visit, and that I was due for a roadtrip to see you.

Of course, with the thrusting of that knife in my chest I was instantly and fully awake. And you died once more.

It amazes me that even two years later one’s subconscious can still pretend that you are alive and well. But then we always want what we can’t have; our subconscious never lies or bullshits itself.

There is so much I want to tell you – so much about what I’ve gone through and experienced since you died. I’d love to gain the perspective of your years on my experiences living abroad.

It’s strange and amusing, when I think about it – we are (were) so different, you and I. My life’s path has diverged so much from yours, and yet I always still valued your advice, right on up to the end, even when old age had begun to color your thinking (or so I thought, at any rate). Heh, and then I would marvel at your foresight when I didn’t take said advice only to wish that I had.

Such is the bond of parent and child, I guess.

Like Mom’s death, I haven’t really “gotten over” yours – not in the strictest sense of the phrase. I don’t think anyone who truly loves another ever can. Death changes the living as well as the dead; the person that I was up to the moment you died, died with you. Just as the person that I was when Mom was still alive was buried with her.

So, gone but not forgotten, eh? I went back and read the first blog post I made after you died. It was a few weeks after your funeral. These words – culled from that meandering, near-stream-of-consciousness musing — still rings true:

Yeah, that beat-up, retread heart of his, the one that we thought for nearly 30 years would be the death of him, held out until the bitter end, the last of his organs to stop functioning. Even in death, even as his spirit fled his dieing, frail body, Dad had to be a smart ass and have the last word.

A twisted part of me wishes I had that heart – I mean that literally; I would carry it with me always as a sort of talisman, a tribute to the kind of spirit that laughs in the face of long odds; the kind of spirit that flips the bird in the face of adversity.

The kind of spirit that insists on just one more cast of the fishing rod into the water, even though the light of day is fading, we’re cold and miserable, and we haven’t caught one damn fish the whole damn day. The kind of spirit that taught me that you play every down as hard as you possibly can, no matter if there is less than a minute left in the game and your team is down by 50 points. The kind of spirit that taught me to play like it’s the first play of the game, and there is no score, even when it is the last play and we’ve clearly lost.

Win or lose, you play hard; you never play “give-up ball,” for that is the worst sin of all. You play that way every play, or you don’t even walk out on the field; there is no half-assing. I would carry that heart as a testament to the spirit that taught me that, metaphorically, that’s how one should live one’s life.

I suppose I carry that heart metaphorically, if not literally, huh Dad?

And then concluded with:

As for Dad, I’ll just say this, the words that I used to conclude what I said at his funeral.

If, at the end of my days, I can say that I was half the man my father was – just half – my spirit will be able to rest easy, for I will know that by anyone’s measure, I will have done well with my time here. Just half – for my father, William Blackburn Chappell, was that much of a man.

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