Monday, November 10, 2008

Happy Death Day?

November 10th, November 10th.

The date was nagging at me, but I couldn't remember exactly why. Was it the birthday of my first real high school boyfriend who later died in a freak newsprint factory accident? No, that's in October. Was it the birthday of one of my college roommates who used to organize her sock drawer because it pleased her to do so? No, that was last week. Was it the day before Veteran's day? Yes, but that wasn't it.

Then it dawned on me. It's my father's death day.

What do you call a day like that? The fifth anniversary of my father's death? Yeah, I guess so, but it's so cumbersome--the fifth anniversary of my father's death. That's just too many words. It's my father's death day. Well, it is. That's what it is. Five years ago today my father was driving down a straight stretch of highway in good weather in the middle of his shift with no other cars or stray animals around when suddenly his vehicle went completely out of control, rolling and flipping, throwing him out of the vehicle and crushing him.

He wasn't wearing his seat belt. This is a man who'd been a professional driver since the 1960s and wore his seat belt at all times, even before the law required it. He was the safest driver I knew. He was the only person my mother felt safe with in a car, besides herself, I would suppose. Trying to make sense of things, people wondered if maybe he had unclasped his seat belt to pick something up off the floor. While that's possible, it's highly unlikely. I'm sure he'd dropped things on the floor while driving and retrieved them many times in three decades without causing a fatal accident. His wife did remember that he'd almost called in sick, which he would only do for scheduled surgery or if he nearly lost an eye because the dolly crank on his Peterbilt cracked him a good one, which means he must have felt really really bad that day. The only scenario that satisfies my brother and I is that he was having a medical emergency, a heart attack perhaps, and took off his seat belt in a panic to relieve the pressure on his chest. Maybe he slumped over the steering wheel, thus causing the sudden veering on a straight road in good weather involving no other vehicles or stray animals. We will never know.

The hard part, aside from, you know, losing my dad, is knowing that he died alone. Same thing with my mom. She was getting ready for work one Monday morning and just keeled over from a heart attack. I hate that. I mean, I guess I'm glad I didn't have to watch them grow old and lose their minds and bladder control. They didn't die painful lingering deaths in a hospital racking up exorbitant bills that would require us to claim bankruptcy. But, damn if it wouldn't have been nice to, oh, I don't know, say goodbye properly.

I realize that my tone may sound a bit too flippant, cold and unfeeling for the subject matter. I apologize. I've cried so hard and for so long that it has just become a part of me, this loss. As much as I am Karin because I am my parents' daughter, I am Karin because I have lost my parents. If only I could remember where I put them.

We don't talk about death in this country very much. We don't know how. We don't allow loud processions of wailing. We no longer wear black for a year to signify grieving. We don't gather with our family members to have a party on the headstones of those we've lost. We spend one day, one day to memorialize and bury them or scatter their ashes. Work might give you three days, if they're feeling generous and compliant with the law. The airlines give a discount on airfare, but it's so miniscule it isn't even worth the call that requires you to tell them someone you love has suddenly died. No, we're just expected to go right back to work, because work will save you or at least distract you and because you have to pay the bills. Don't they know, in those early months and years, that we cannot be distracted, that all the minutiae of life is a distraction? Someone has died. We have to deal with it at some point. We have to cry, to scream, to sob into our journals, to make art to save ourselves from dying. If we don't, and maybe even if we do, we'll end up with headaches, obesity, drinking problems, whatever. Pain like this doesn't just go away; it has to manifest somehow.

In the beginning, after my mother died, I dreaded the monthly anniversaries of her death. The first year or two were the hardest. I was surprised and dismayed the first time the anniversary of her death rolled around and I didn't remember until it was upon me. Was I somehow a bad kid? No, it was just that the pain was sometimes subsiding just enough for me to finally focus on the minutiae of my life. Thinking big was still a ways out, but being present to my life again was new and it was
enough. Eventually the intense pain was mostly gone and reared its ugly head less and less, making it possible to think beyond getting dressed, brushing teeth, eating toast. At some point, dreaming and planning became possible again.

So, here I am at the fifth anniversary of my father's death. His death day. He had a birthday and then, 63 years later he had a death day. It goes the same way for all of us. No way around it. I'm just saying it like it is.

I love you, Dad. I miss you.


Tereza said...

I'm glad you're "just saying it like it is."

I definitely think there is something to be said for commemorating the dead as a community by having a party at the grave site or somewhere significant.

The Day of the Dead just passed here. The graveyards were bustling with people, the tombstones lit up with candles and decorated with flowers, but the only sound was that of people's feet shuffling. Sometimes silence is just right, but not when it is the only way accepted in a culture. Sometimes wailing or singing or feasting of dancing or talking or writing or reading your words to others can be so much better, so much more healing and cathartic.

I'm glad you keep remembering to mourn and meditate on your life as a daughter. Keep talking about it.

Karin said...

thank you, tereza. your friendship means a lot to me.

Rebel said...

This is why like Day of the Dead, it's a chance to remember and honor those who have died.

You're right, in the US we just don't talk about death. We try to put it off as long as possible. It's a bit immature actually.

I'm sorry that you've lost both of your parents, I can't imagine what that must be like. But you're right in that their deaths have made you who you are as much as their lives did... and you're a pretty cool person. So yeah, honor them how you need to.

Karin said...

thanks, rebel.

hey, let's do coffee. oh, wait, you're in Thailand.

Okay, tea, then.

Michael5000 said...

You do a good eulogy. Well, I guess it's not a eulogy, exactly. But it's good.

And it's nice to see a KITBK essay again....

Karin said...

thanks,M5K. it's nice to be back.