Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Have you ever held someone as they lay dying?

I have.  

It has been seven years, and still this memory shimmers at the edges—a standout—and it has since coloured and broken me into a million different mosaic pieces that tell a story only I can fully understand. It is my momma's and my shared memory, and people we know have lived snippets of it with us, and yet the colours and the jagged edges are mine alone to sift through. To make sense with.

November 13th, 2002. Aloha Nursing and Rehab Center. Kane'ohe, Hawai'i. Another time, another place, another life.

I crawled into my da’s narrow hospital bed—tubes be damned—and tucked myself into a fetal position, my ears pressed to his chest, listening to the ragged breaths that I knew would soon fade into nothingness.

“Everything will be okay, daddy. You can let go now. You don’t have to hold on for us anymore.” I said these words even as I wanted to scream and beg for him to fight harder to stay with us. It was 10:20 PM, long after visiting hours had passed. My momma said, and I will never forget, "Hold on, Ron. Wait for us in the morning." But it wasn't about our wants anymore--my momma's and mine--but rather, about what a tired man needed. I looked at my watch as I stood in the doorway of da's room. 10:37 P.M., it declared.  

I dreamt of him that night. My daddy and I danced, bathed in an ethereal white glow. Spin me around, daddy! Spin me around more! I was his darlin' little princess again. Safe in his outstretched hands, I spun around and around, happy to see my da. But then the music stopped and the world, as it had before, became a blur of jumbled backgrounds. I turned to see my da, wanting an explanation, but then, like world, he slowly faded away.

“No, daddy! Don’t go! Don’t leave me again!” I stopped dancing, held out my hand to hold onto him, to finish my dream, the place where I could always see him, but then he was gone.

I awoke to silence and knew. Just knew. He was gone. I woke up my momma and told her softly, "Momma, the phone is going to ring, and it will be the doctor or the nurses, telling us that daddy is gone." Half-asleep, momma looked at me and said, "How do you know this? No, no...It cannot be. Your daddy cannot leave us. He..." Before she could even finish the sentence, the phone rang.

My daddy died at exactly 1:17 AM. 

People always tell me that I have the memory of an elephant. Professors have commented that I have a photographic memory. "I wish I had that," one of my mentors said. "It would make life easier!" Well, if I could, I would  give this gift of vivid memories to him. Memories are a double-edged sword. Some memories I am so grateful to have, while there are some I wish I didn't remember so vividly. There are little details in everyday life--seemingly innocuous--that can bring it all back. Triggers, they call it. A song, a word, a scent, a sound. They wield so much power over me sometimes, and I bend. Kneel.  They can send me into a tailspin...down, down, down into a spiral of anger, resentment, and a pain of loss so unbearably sharp I cannot find the words to express. Nobody understands.
June, November, and December are particularly difficult months. Right around Fathers’ Day, I tend to withdraw from the world as I half-drown in a strong current of sadness and anger that my father is gone. He died on November 14th, 3 days after Veterans’ Day and a full two weeks before Thanksgiving. A month and two days before what would’ve been his 65th birthday. Right before Christmas, his favourite holiday. New Year dawned without him in 2003, just as it had from then on and will from hereon after. 

In my dark moments I rage and I scream. Silently. In my head, in my room. Intellectually I know that a vegetative body ravaged by diabetes, stroke, and multi-organ failure cannot possibly endure forever. 18 months was a courageous fight. A miracle. Spiritually, I understand the impermanence of life and the enlightenment of letting go of that which are not ours to keep. And yet the child in me--an eternal half-orphan--sees neither reason or life's cyclical nature: I feel abandoned. Betrayed. How could've my Hawaiian Superman succumbed to the Kryptonite of illness? Wasn't my da the invincible wounded soldier who survived two tours of duty in Viet Nam? What happened to the immortal man who defied two cardiac arrests, a quadruple bypass surgery, and a pacemaker? 

I graduated at the top of my class from a university he had also been accepted to. On a drizzling June afternoon, I stood in front of a podium and spoke to my graduating class about persevering and finding one's worth. My momma cried, especially since I didn't tell her about what I--we--had achieved against all odds. How, despite losing the luxuries and comforts from our old life, nothing could take away what is within us. Da should have been there too, because more than anyone, it was he who gave wings to my intellectual curiosity and pushed me to ascend to the pinnacle of my limitless potential. Everyone tells me that of course he would've been proud of the woman that I am today, but how could I possibly begin to explain these unnamed feelings inside me, this guilt because the sound of his voice saying"I'm proud of you, darlin' " is slowly fading away? 

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We must never permit the voice of humanity
within us to be silenced. It is Man's sympathy with all creatures that first makes him a Man.

--Albert Schweitzer

Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.

--Viktor E. Frankl