Just arrived home from work. Anxious to get to a comfortable chair after a long day at work. The stare on my wife's face frightens me as she holds out the phone for me. Hesitant but concerned I press the earpiece to my ear to hear a voice already in midsentence. I start making out what's being said when I hear the word BODY. My knees buckle, my thoughts race. What the hell is this person saying? The words I hear—I force myself to believe they don't make sense or the person ranting inside the phone is mistaken. My mind is slowly accepting raw news. "The body was taken away, they just took it away." Tears start to gush, my mouth pulls open with a trembling silence. Suddenly, an uncontrollable, jerking sort of cough- covered cry is relentlessly breaking out and away from me. Helpless distraught is a feeling I haven't felt until this very moment.
My dad was diagnosed with lung cancer three months before this phone call day. My two year old son, Brett, and me had taken him to the veterans hospital and lunch just the day before. I remember seeing pain on his face when I dropped him off, he thought he had hidden it. Thinking he was having a difficult time was evident but the extent was not. Knowing he was already on barrowed time it never really sunk in, I thought it did but I had no idea. I knew he would pass any day, week or month, the doctor was crystal clear about that. I thought I prepared myself to accept this cold fact. I spent as much time as I could with him showing him that someone cared that his time was limited. He seemed to know that, even though no words ever confirmed it.
Shocked at how deep my sorrow was, I couldn't understand what it was. How could I grow up resenting someone so much and be this traumatized? How could I have mastered a stone response to every emotional circumstance with steely perfection only to loose complete control now? I drove the hour to his place in pouring rain, sobbing the entire way. Gathering enough control to stop at a liquor store to pick up a bottle of Seagrams Seven, a twelve pack of tall Budweiser cans and a pack of Camels, I was fully supplied to pay my respects with all of his favorites.
Wiping my face with my sleeve before I pulled it over my hand for protection, I punched out a glass section in his front door. Reaching through releasing the lock I was in and staring, just staring for a while. A scared man came to the door flash light in my face,"what are you doing" He's the voice from the phone.
"I'm Bill's son, I talked to you on the phone, I'll just be a while, I just want to be here for a little while"
"What about the window?" he asked sheepishly.
"Don't worry about it, I'll pay for it"
He left me alone with my Dad. I saw remnants of where he passed. On the tile floor of the kitchen, a tuft of hair, a spot of blood. I stared again for a long while. I lit a smoke, took a big drag. I cracked open the Seagrams, took a big swig. Took a couple more and kept staring.
Rubbing my eyes I realized I had a crushing headache. The sunlight that pierced my vision causing me to squint confused me. Looking around I realized slowly what I was in the middle of, I was grieving. Laying on the floor of an empty living room except for empty cans, an empty bottle and cigarette butts. My Dads paintings( all portraits-Mother Teresa, Olly North my Dad, General Patton and others), schooled artist that he was, were all propped up on the floor. I guess I collected them from around his small cottage and set them up.They were all leaning against the wall at a perfect angle and all staring at me. Needless to say, I wasn't taking my Dad's passing as well as I thought I would.
If I had a dime for every person, professional and not, who recommended that I forget about his death and move on, yeah, I'd have a few bucks. I felt his presence for years. I conquered a lot of emotional problems, during this period of time, always thinking with his now superior guidance. Solving personal issues, including letting go, was only something I could understand by experiencing a traumatic death of, not known then, a loved one. I will forever be grateful to my Dad for what I have learned from him after he passed away.
Causes Ron McElroy Supports
Surfrider Foundation, LA Mission, World Vision,Green peace, UCSB.