The last photo of my father

Tomorrow marks three years since I received the fateful call that my father was gone.  Although it feels like a lifetime ago, I can still recall details.  I’m purposefully not looking at any of my old posts to see what effect the last several years have had on my memory.

It was Tuesday.  Driving into work that afternoon (I was working the 2-11 shift) I remembered that I’d tried to call him on Saturday, but he didn’t answer.  I’d left a voice mail for him and moved on with my day.  I don’t remember why I’d called him, but as it occurred to me on the drive it was very much unlike him not to return my call.  I simply hadn’t thought about it since.  I thought to myself, ‘Boy, I sure hope nothing has happened to him and nobody’s gone to check on him.’  It was a morbid thought, not one I spent much time on before I got to work.  Definitely not something I felt had any truth to it.  Though, perhaps, I already knew.

I came into the office and started my day.  Greeted my team, got my coffee.  It was about 2:30 PM when I got a call from the reception desk at work.  That was rare; I answered it expecting our front desk lady.  Instead, it was my Uncle Jody.  I had an instant wave of dread; he never called me.  There could only be one reason.  “I’m really sorry to tell you this, but your father has passed away.”  I didn’t break down and weep; I went into task mode.  What happened?  When did he pass?  Who found him?  I learned that my aunt had gone to check on him after nobody had heard from him since Saturday; he was found face down on the floor of his living room with no visible signs of trying to get up.  By all accounts, he was gone before he hit the ground.  Just like that, my life changed.

After getting the basics, I sought out my leader and told her.  I was immediately excused from work and I drove the mile to the office my mother worked at.  I called her on the way.  “Hey, can you come outside for a second?” I asked in a calm voice.  Mom sounded concerned and said sure.  She came outside and I told her.  They had been divorced for seven years; I wasn’t sure what her reaction would be.  She hugged me, held me, and said how terribly sorry she was.  We cried a little, but it was not yet time to let it all loose.  I had to tell Tyler.  Mom left work early and met me at her house, where she and my brother lived, and wait for him to get home from broadcasting school in about half an hour.

Mom and I waited; she asked questions and I answered them with the little information I had.  Tyler came home shortly, surprised that we were both there.  Mom and I both put our arms around him and told him.  After a moment, he broke from our embrace.  He was incredulous.  No, there is no way.  That’s not possible.  He paced a little, threw his baseball cap into the other room angrily, and then broke down in front of me.  He cried, fell to his knees, and I joined him there.  There was nothing I could say or do.  All I could do was hold him until he was exhausted.

I drove home.  Since I’d posted about it on Facebook, I’d received a few phone calls.  What happened?  Are you ok?  What can I do to help?  I didn’t have answers to any of those questions.  I packed a bag and drove up to Pawhuska, where he lived, to start sorting things out.  I would discover that Dad had no will and he had debts, both of which required some legal wrangling.  Although it felt like forever, the dust was settled on everything by the end of April.

I remember staying at Uncle Jody’s with Mom and Tyler a day or two later.  I remember being unable to sleep, leaving the bedroom I was using, and wandering into the living room.  Mom was sleeping on the couch.  I sat opposite her for a while, before begrudgingly waking her.  As soon as she asked what I needed…that was the moment.  That’s when I really let the first of my emotion out in force.  I wept, asked why this happened.  There are no answers.  There is just life.  I miss him as much today as I did then.  The pain is not as sharp, but it is still as deep.  Over the last three years, my grief has ebbed and flowed and I have sought out ways to sooth it.  Sometimes it’s washing his car.  Other times it’s a visit to his hometown.  Although I haven’t done it in well over a year, I would also take pictures of myself when my grief was overwhelming.  Somehow, it allowed me to capture that emotion and let go of it.  I look back at some of those photos now and again; sometimes I get emotional all over again, other times it’s almost like a warped sense of nostalgia.  I always thought it was kind of weird, but hey…it worked for me.

Yesterday, my friend Maggie linked an article to me and I saw it again today on reddit.  An actor at a fun and zany photo shoot had the photographer capture him afterwards, only revealing after the photos were taken that he had just learned his father passed away.  It’s a very touching article and reminded me of the times I turned the lens on myself:

One of many
One of many

I miss my Dad.  Most of the time, my memories come with laughter and fond emotions.  It’s rare that I get so wracked with grief that I cry.  However, there are times when I inexplicably feel like I am about to weep mightily for no reason, and I reckon the next time my emotions get the better of me it will be a significant experience.  I am sure I will feel better once I unload that baggage, but when I want it to flow it refuses.  I suppose it will show itself in its own time.  Tomorrow, I am going to breakfast with my Mom and brother to celebrate the man that helped shape me by telling stories & laughing at his same old jokes. In that way, he’s not gone at all.

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