“In the language of the deaf, the sign for ‘remember’ begins with the sign for ‘know’: the fingertips of the right hand touch the forehead. But merely to know is not enough, so the sign for ‘remain’ follows: the thumbs of each hand touch and, in this joined position, move steadily forward into the future. Thus a knowing that remains, never lost, forever: memory.”
~~~ Myron Uhlberg in Hands of My Father: A Hearing Boy, His Deaf Parents, and the Language of Love
My daddy died died twenty years ago today, and I still ache with grief, crave one more hug, long to hear him call me Doll just one more time. Every December 2 I become a cauldron of grief – sorrow, anger, pensiveness, no sense of direction. I usually spend the day doing soft, soulful things like writing, remembering, walking, but with the recent fullness of my life, I had no time to pre-plan. My waking thought was to read something written by someone else remembering and grieving for their daddy, and while that felt like a winner of an idea, what, exactly, I would read remained a question mark. Then, as Magic would have it, I went to the bookshelves in my studio this morning in search of another book for another reason, when the book aforementioned book leapt off the shelf and into my hands.
It’s what I do.
It’s who I am.
Stories of remembering are my oxygen.
In August 2000, two weeks after delivering the book I wrote about my father-in-law to each of his children and grandchildren, Bones woke me up whispering, “Write a book about your daddy, and do it now.”
“Are you kidding me?” I countered. “I am exhausted, depleted, worn slap out.” (I kept the father-in-law book a secret even from Andy, which meant much writing at night) The Voice of my Bones was not amused or swayed, and I’ve learned (the hard way) not to argue with Bones, so the following week I began gathering stories, photos, newspaper articles, interviews, whatever I could get my ears and hands on, about my daddy. I wrote. I scanned. I wrote some more, and the Monday before Thanksgiving, off it went to the printer and binder. Everybody in the family would receive a leather-bound copy of this 400+ page book of memories about Daddy.
Four days later – the day after Thanksgiving – Daddy fell, hitting his head. Hard.
The Monday after Thanksgiving, I called Karen, the book binder. “I hear voices, you see, and well, Daddy fell last Friday and the voices I call My Bones tell me I need to get those books back asap. Can you help?” Without a single audible sign of exasperation, Karen said, “I can have one book to you on Saturday and the rest next Monday.”
First-Book-Arrives-Saturday started with all Daddy’s bells and whistles going off, his machine creating a cacophony of alert. I called family members. “If you want to see Daddy alive, you need to get here before noon,” I told them. They came trickling in. Friends followed. Finally, husband Andy and son Kipp walked in, brown package in hand.
In a rather bold move for a Southern girl raised to respect hospitality above (almost) all else, I asked the friends to leave, gathered family around Daddy’s bed, and opened the package. I began reading at 1:05 p.m. A nurse stayed well past her shift’s end, keeping the machines shushed by holding her finger on the quiet button.
We took turns reading, arriving at “The End” at 4:50 p.m.
Daddy took his last breath at 4:55.
Though he never said a word, I know Daddy could hear his life review because from my position to the left of his pillow, I watched tears make their way down his face throughout the afternoon.
Take from this post whatever you will, just please promise me this:
~ If, God forbid, anybody you love should ever be in a coma or otherwise unable to communicate, take it upon yourself to make sure that only positive loving kindness is spoken within those four walls because I know – know to my very core – that they hear everything, and we all know that words are powerful.
~ You’ll take the time to capture your family’s stories. Start today. Record, write, ask, clip, copy, scan – gather and preserve those stories by whatever means available. You can shape them into narrative later, step one is to capture, and let’s face it: we never know. Preserving these stories will change your life (among other things, you will learn a lot about yourself) and future generations will call you good things and be forever grateful. Count on it.
A story straight from your heart…your sharing this really emphasizes how important it is that we listen to family stories and history. My Grammy knew so much about our ancestors for example and I was one of those typical teens that no doubt rolled my eyes at the time…oh how I miss her and all that wisdom and history. By the time my own Dad was so frail and yet still able to communicate, I no longer rolled my eyes but listened closely and imprinted everything on my own heart. His humble accounting of being on the USS Yorktown at the Battle of Midway was one of the most emotional times we ever shared together. I treasure the fact that he finally was able to talk about it after so many years. The last day before he passed, I told him how much he was loved & how he was such a good Dad to us. He opened his eyes and looked at me as his faint voice said “I tried my best”. I believe somehow he heard us speaking and was blessed with the moment to respond.
Oh Pat. You bring tears to my eyes – good tears. I’m so glad you had these particular gifts of time and deep sharing with your dad. Have you written it down for other family members? (You know I had to ask!) xo