This week, we buried my father.
On the day after Thanksgiving, at the start of the holiday season, we laid my dad to rest. Among those present were five grandchildren, four neighbor friends, three mourning girls, two sons-in-law, and a pastor sans a pear tree.
We kept it small. We sent him to glory in a rough-hewn coffin among the smallest of crowds. In this time of coronavirus, we tried to be responsible. No sibling of his was present. No son. No church family, save his pastor and a crew of food pantry volunteers (of which he had been one) watching from the safety of a truck on the driveway.
We kept it small, trying to be responsible. We had been so responsible for so very long. Or had we?
I had not seen my dad since February. I was trying to protect him.
I called him. Often. In the beginning of the pandemic I called him every day. Then every other. Then when school started back, every other week. Things got really hectic. Teaching school and coaching football in 2020 is no small feat. But I spoke to him more than I ever had in my life. I can honesty say that.
I hadn’t seen Dad since February. The last thing he texted me as I invited him to a gathering at my house for the Saturday before Thanksgiving (outside in an attempt to protect him and my mother and her partner, all hovering around the 80-year mark) was, “The Lord continues to be merciful and gracious to the completion of my bucket list.”
Getting everybody together again after such a long absence was on his list. We were so close. Four days away.
As a matter of fact, my sister and I were even closer than that. We were supposed to meet him on Wednesday– the day after he died. We had an appointment to look at a cottage in an assisted living community, but Dad didn’t show.
I didn’t have an inkling. Not a premonition, one. I always thought I would. I always thought I would know if something happened to someone I loved dearly.
He’d had them. When his dear Aunt Emmy died, he woke in the middle of the night to see her ascend to heaven in a hot air balloon. But me, I had no idea. He did, however, send me a signal — I just didn’t realize it.
The Tuesday night he died, alone, in his basement, tangled up in a chair, I developed a pain under my left shoulder blade, a throbbing behind my heart under my rib cage. It started right after dinner and bothered me all night and all the next day. I’ve never had an ache there EVER. But it was persistent. I tried stretching my back, pressing against door frames, taking Advil. Nothing did the trick.
Then, after my sister and I realized Dad wasn’t at our appointed meeting place at our appointed meeting time — after I’d summoned help from a neighbor friend of his (a neighbor so kind and generous, who I can never thank enough) — after he found my father, after my father was no longer lying there alone… the pain went away. Vanished.
I believe it was a sonar signal from Dad. From his heart to mine. A beacon begging he be found, my sweet-hearted, broken-hearted, father.
He’d died, the coroner tells us, of a massive heart attack. Instantly. Approximately twenty-four hours before we found him — approximately the same time my pulsing pain had begun.
I had not seen him since February. I was trying to protect him. Instead, I lost him.
Was it worth it? I honestly don’t know. I want to say no.
But then I will also say this… Our family, who was so very careful for so very long, gathered together in my father’s honor, and Covid, despite our precautions and best intentions, caught fire and spread like lighter fluid on the flames of our grief.
Three of the third-generation family members who came in for his funeral have come down with the virus. Six more of us are now in quarantine. The three with Covid are young. They have been thoroughly knocked off their feet. I pray they are soon well — and the odds are definitely with them.
But at seventy-eight, the odds would not have been in my father’s favor. And the illness could have (would have?) wreaked havoc on his body. It could have proved a slow and painful, a brutal end.
But I hadn’t seen him since February. Was that not also a slow and painful and brutal end?
I am wracked with guilt. This virus is awful. But did it also make me an awful daughter?
I certainly feel that way. I feel awful.