April 19, 2010

Dad

Mom sent an email last night. "APRIL 19 IS DAD'S ANNIVERSARY. PLEASE SAY A PRAYER! LOVE, MOM" - I so often forget, although I often hit a bit of a sad spot this time of year.

April 19, 1979, my father, William Joseph Russell, passed away. He was at (then named) Framingham Union Hospital, in the midst of an angioplasty attempting to repair a heart damaged by a series of heart attacks. He was not yet 45; missing his birthday by a few days - I'm older now than he ever was; if one were to believe in a corporal afterlife where one retained ones age at death, my dad would be my junior when next we met....

It is perhaps indicative of where we were at the time that none of us were at the hospital - Dad had been in and out of the hospital repeatedly over the past year or so; my sister and I had grown used to stopping by to see him after high school (right now the block from the hospital) and later finding him puttering around the house as he recovered. On some level, his infirmity had become an annoyance; we wanted to ignore it and hope it would clear up, and let us get back to our lives. So on some level, this procedure and his passing were just one more thing in a slow but seemingly inevitable slide that we had grown accustomed to.

I remember driving the family in his 1973 AMC Hornet to the hospital to see him - as the eldest child who had just turned 18 myself, I suddenly assumed a heavy mantle of family responsibility; Mom seemed in no condition to drive. At the hospital, I went in to see him; not sure if they kept him alive via machines until we got there or not, but it was clear that he was gone. I had learned well his lessons regarding torquing down on my emotions, and I did not cry even as I stood over my father's lifeless body.

I don't remember a whole lot about the next few days. I remember a little black humor with my family at the funeral home regarding caskets (Dad wouldn't want something too ostentatious, dad won't care, that sort of thing); I remember tucking a guitar pick into Dad's suit pocket; thanking him for my music. I remember a reception following the funeral at the house; not quite an irish wake but with some lightness and spirit. At my graduation a month or so later, mom presented me with a typewriter that she and dad had picked out together.

Not too long afterwards, I left for college, beginning the slow pulling away from family. My brother took over my bedroom soon thereafter and I slept on the couch or an empty bunk bed when I came home for vacations and summer. I kind of missed the mourning and getting used to a house with one less person in it. My family got a dog soon thereafter - Kyla was a mix of Coyote, Labrador, and Samoyed, she was a companion, protector, and friend - and came to live with me in CT in her dotage. I was with her when she died....

Dad has been in my mind to a greater and lesser extent over the years. I think we miss him most at those times of ceremony and ritual - holidays, graduations, weddings, births. Mom has watched over us kids in the years since - at this point she has lived as a single mother and widow much longer than she lived with her husband.

I certainly I have danced with his ghost in my therapy, on the mat, at various retreats, workshops, and ceremonies. I have moved from numbness to anger to grief; from resentment to pity. For many years I assumed I might follow his lead and expected an early death; my various transformations and personal growth has effaced that surety; I feel like I have a lot of life ahead of me. Death has not touched me much in the years since; having taken Dad, the reaper has been mostly silent these many years save for grandparents and an aunt.

Rest in peace, Dad. Miss you and love you. Not sure I have a prayer today, but you remain in memory; tears have been shed.

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