Wednesday, June 23, 2010

My father died 20 years ago today.

I still miss him.

Colon cancer killed him at 58. When they first found the tumor in his colon, he had surgery to remove it. During the operation I sat in the waiting room at New Rochelle Hospital with my mother. All I remember is that the surgeon came out when he was finished, and said: "It was very big. The size of a grapefruit. But I think I got it all."

The tumor had grown so large because my father didn't get himself checked for years. He had misdiagnosed the pain in his back. I remember him always having back problems. When I was 13 he was in traction, and to pass the time, he hand-hooked rugs. I still have a lovely floral rug that he made for me in my guest room. Sometimes he said his back problem was caused by an injury he got playing Gaelic football; other times, as I recall, it seemed to be related to a fall from a telephone pole. My father used to repair telephone wires for a living.

Finally they found the source of this particular pain, and so he had the surgery, and chemo, which seemed to cure him for a while, until it didn't.

He died right after Father's Day. I don't know why, but I bought him a large mahogany wall clock that year. He was so frail, and when he opened it, he sobbed a heart breaking sob. Why had I bought him such a gift?

Very near the end, he was thin as a rail, and he wanted a cigarette. My brother Robert could not deny him. I watched him smoking it, and he seemed a corpse already, but I knew that Robert had done the right thing.

I spent the night before he died at my parents' house, and I was able to tell him that I loved him, and he heard me. My family of origin is not big on "I Love You." It is so rarely spoken amongst us that I can barely choke it out, and if I do say it, it seems like some sort of breach of etiquette. People avert their eyes, then make jokes. We don't say it, but we know it.

The afternoon of June 23, 1990, it was sunny and beautiful, and my brother took a few of us, me and some cousins, out in the little motor boat that my father had recently insisted on buying for him. (For me, he had thoughtfully purchased an air conditioner for my stifling New York apartment.) The sun glittered on the water. We were quietly waiting.

When we returned a few hours later, my mother and my parents' closest friends sat around the dining room table. I glanced their way as I went directly to my father's bedside.

"Chris..." It was Mr. Maye, my father's lifelong best friend. He didn't need to say anything else.

My father's hands were folded on his chest.


  1. Oh this is heartbreaking and beautiful. My dad died a few weeks before his 60th birthday eight years ago. It was sudden and shocking and world-altering. I still need to leave the room during the father-daughter dance at weddings. This is all to say I understand. And I'm sorry.

  2. I'm sorry, Christina. I lost my most beloved mom almost seven years ago, and her passing still haunts me. It's a dull pain that never goes away, and life afterwards is bittersweet at best.

  3. It doesn't feel that long, though, does it? My dad's been gone 14 years, but it doesn't seem possible. I cling to the memories. Hope yours are helping you through today.

  4. That's a beautiful remembrance.

  5. I'm so sorry, but what a beautiful tribute to him. My own father passed away just two weeks ago from lung cancer and while he clearly wanted to be by himself when it happened, I already regret not being there. I'm so glad that you got to say goodbye to him.

  6. I'm so sorry, Christina. And I'm glad he heard you say "I love you."

    I'm grateful that my dad got to meet Josie (if not Maxie -- I was 8 mos pregnant when he died, and she's named after him). I hope your dad knows, somehow, how important your kids are to you.

  7. 6 years ago for me. And "I still need to leave the room during the father-daughter dance at weddings" Sixminutes, so do I.

  8. What a beautiful piece of writing. I don't want to be corny and say "Thanks for sharing" but that's kind of how I feel.

  9. I was just 4 years old when my father died of heart attack in 1997...its being 20 years. Grief never ends it increases day by day...