Death and Taxes all in a Week

They say the only two sure things in life are death and taxes. Today I finally – finally – caught up on my last five years of taxes. The only other person who would truly appreciate the sublime moment of a completed To Do list is Dad.

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I last talked to Dad on Tuesday, May 30. He said he wasn’t feeling well so Jack and I drove up to Kamloops after school on Friday. We walked in at 8 pm and found him in his armchair looking very much like he always did when he snoozed there except he wasn’t asleep. “Dad, we’re here! Dad? DAD!” I had to walk right up to make sure.

His skin was pale but he wasn’t cold. He was room temperature.

Everything else was in order. The sports channel was on. He’d been sweeping and tidying up. The cat had food. There was laundry in the washing machine. He looked peaceful. Mid-snore, even.

So this is the way the world ends.

It was, as they say, a “good death.”

Coroner said it had been maybe 24 hours.

Good thing we didn’t wait until Father’s Day to come up.

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I suspect he wanted to go six months after Mom passed in 2013 when he had his stroke but we (and probably she) wouldn’t let him. None of us were ready then.

You are never ready. For my brother and I, the foundational tectonic plates underneath us have shifted. Both our parents are gone. The mystery of life is both a torture and a comfort.

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It seems like straight up simple grief so far, though perhaps exacerbated by the loss of family roots. If grief were a painting, it would be a chiaroscuro study, stark and buzzing, like a Rembrandt painting full of mosquitoes.

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In time, I know the picture in my mind of him dead in his chair will cease to haunt me. The image of my mom in her coffin is not what comes to mind when I think of her now. That’s how our minds work. Our past comes rushing forward in a swirl of tenderness and regret to wash away the shock and horror.

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I suppose it is a comfort that how he went is exactly how he wanted to go. At this point, he didn’t leave the house and could barely walk. He’d stopped taking his meds in the prescribed blister pack order and had his own program. It wasn’t easy for him to communicate but there was no question that when he went, it would be on his own terms. He adamantly refused “help” though my brother and I both tried to arrange in-home care. He definitely didn’t want to go to any Kamloops senior facility. He didn’t want to have anyone except family around him. He wanted to be in the place he felt the most comfortable – his home – with everything sorted out beforehand. And it is. Even his taxes are done.

He was a good citizen. A good man. He had a good life and there were many moments of joy even in the four years after Mom died. I am glad for that.

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On a more profound level, though, this is the end of a generation. The reshuffling of a hierarchy. Our little family unit no longer has a center.

No one on the planet will ever know me as long or as well and at the very time I need my dad the most, he isn’t there.

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This last one is a quote from an artist colleague who has as fine a way with words as she does with a paintbrush.

And here’s a thing about grief. You read this in inspiring articles and in Facebook posts but it also happens to be true. You find it woven into the fabric of your body and your soul. It gets into your cells. It bloats them a bit; if you looked at them under a microscope they would be wider than the cells of a person who has not experienced loss. Not quite plantlike, but not fully animal. You would see something there that would remind you that you are made of the same stuff as other, longer lived organisms, organisms that grow out of death. You take it in, inhale it, and it makes a home with you and eventually you get to understand that it’s not a parasite, but a symbiote. You realize one day that you have a greater capacity for pain, that you can take on more, that you can love more. It just happens. I don’t know exactly how, but it does.

– Corey Hardeman