I drove to one. I walked inside. I sat and waited. The woman who helped me was efficient and kind. I tried hard not to think of my dad in that moment, of the years he'd spent in that area, of the life he established, that I now closed.
I drove on to the next location. I walked inside. I sat and waited. Of the three possible helps, I got Lucy B. She was friendly and warm. She chatted Erin about her doll and told her of her own youth playing with dolls and a sister. I sat down with Letters of Administration and a death certificate. I pulled out my ID and handed it to her.
"My father died a month ago. I'm here to close out his accounts."
She helped me. She was efficient and kind. I sat quietly and signed where I needed to sign. She put things in an envelope for me. And then she said, "I'm sorry about your father."
I reached out my hand to shake hers. She met it firmly. It was such an intentional, real contact.
"Thank you," I said, off guard and grateful.
"My father died--it will be a year tomorrow," she told me.
We looked at each other. She reached across the table and hugged me. I spoke into her ear, "I'm sorry about your father."
"It's hard," she said. "I needed therapy. It's so hard." She talked about her anger that her father was gone. She talked about missing him, the comfort and strength he had been, his kindness, and how life wasn't ever the same. She was always aware of the void.
My own tears, brimming. I pushed the swell down.
[these days] His cars are parked in my driveway. Every morning I see them outside the window, and they seem out of place here. One morning, I will look outside and they will be gone, and that will seem equally unusual.
He had a package of Starbursts in one of the vehicles. He'd snack on them and drink sodas to keep himself awake on Sundays for the ride home from visiting Linda. I packaged up a yarn project he was working on.
As I wrap up the legwork errands, I'll switch to cleaning out his cars and getting them ready for sale.
[wednesday] His face still appears in the sidebar of my Facebook friends feed. I don't ever want it to go away, and yet, I know it will from inactivity.
Even this morning, I looked at his face and cried. Then I pushed off the feelings to get on with the list of things to do today. I'm glad Erin will be with me.
[remembering] (I'm sure [she] meant it in comfort and kindness. She told me how proud he'd be, how proud they'd be, my parents. How proud of the mom I've become. How proud of the management of this all, the grown-up stuff of packing away a life. I just smiled politely. I stayed quiet and looked into her eyes while she spoke. These words mean very little from the grave. They mean nothing at all.)
[remembering] I held my mom's hand when she died. God knew my heart needed to be with her to speak last love into her ear. To catch sight of her last tear. I never imagined what it would be like when my father died. That I would have no idea how short the time. Would not be at his bedside, his words, in fact, telling me to just stay home. Would it have been different if we had known? If I had known? I had no idea it would be Tracey who'd call me with the news. He'd been gone all through that night. The hospital didn't even have my number.
But God knew things I would hold dear. Anyone could have driven my dad's truck home from the hospital. But I'm thankful God let me be the one, to sit in that seat and think on his last day outside; to drive through the streets that were new to me and imagine him there once upon a time; to walk into the dealings of this life: the pharmacy, the banks, the businesses and offices. To pack up his life. To arrange the things for his grave, the clothes, the flowers, the casket. To sell off the things he loved (his cars). As I close the doors to each of these tasks, it gets harder because the doors are fewer. And very soon there will be a last. I am glad to do them instead of someone hired. They wouldn't understand how intensely meaningful this is. But God knew. He knows how much goodbye means to me; He gives me this goodbye when my voice didn't have that final chance.
[remembering] The morning my father died, I woke up like it was any other Saturday. I had coffee. I sat at the computer.
I tried to call my dad's cell phone at 8:30 a.m., no answer. I told myself he might be busy with medicines or breakfast or doctors. I would call back at nine.
Tracey called me just before nine.
"Hey!" I said. "What's up?"
"Did the hospital call you?" she asked.
"No," I said.
"Oh," she said, and I could hear everything in that word--the sadness, the heaviness, the loss, her realization she would be the one to tell me--even though I tried to convince myself in that one second she had something else to say.
[remembering] That Saturday, after the news, I was up in my room on the phone with a friend. I was pacing, pacing, pacing. I walked over to my nightstand where the necklace my dad had given me lay. It had been there for weeks since I'd last worn it. It was always heart-side up. I had seen it every day. Weeks. Heart-side up. Every day. The morning he died, I found it turned over, to inscription:
I love you
[remembering] Waiting for Shane to meet me at the lawyer's office. Sitting in my car in the parking lot. Every time a white-haired man entered or exited the building, I looked hard. Is that my dad? He looked like my dad. And so did another one. Of course, I knew better. But it jolted me each time. I wanted this all to somehow be a bad joke. I wanted my dad back.
[wednesday] I stopped by more places today, and one to open his safe deposit box. I stood in the tiniest room with the long skinny box. I opened it and examined the contents. A card on the counter, where the teller instructed me to sign, below his name. His signature, so familiar, reaching out to me from 2009, when he was there. Now, mine below it. I handed the box back to her empty. I gave her the keys. I watched as she put the drawer into place and locked it with two sets of keys. I closed the account.
[wednesday] At a different place, a manager tells me how she spoke to Dad by phone the day before he died. My dad had called about some business; he told her he was concerned he wasn't making it out. My eyes watered.
I wondered if she had even known my name before today. Did she know I was his other daughter? Did she know I threw him birthday parties? Did she know how much love I put into planning our gatherings all the years, and that I felt deep happiness when he went back for seconds at a meal? Did she know I always wanted things to be lovely for him?
[remembering] The last time I saw him alive was January 1, when he came over for a bit to teach me a new crochet pattern. My house was cold. I'd been at church in the morning and hadn't had time to get a fire blazing before Dad arrived. He sat bundled in his coat. He was always cold. I offered him hot chocolate, and he happily accepted. He drank from the sweet mini mugs we have. (Did I make him a peppermint one or a regular? I can't remember.)
I worked on the stitch. He brought remnant yarn for practice. He handed me the ugliest bright orange, but I didn't care. It was just practicing.
"I have to lighten up on my grasp. The stitches were getting so tight, I had a hard time with the hook," I said.
He learned to crochet from his mother just after his first heart attack in his forties.
"My first project was a blanket--the stitches were so tight!" he told me. He's made hundreds of blankets since then. He taught me how to make granny squares when I was in high school. "I put that first blanket in the casket with my father when he died," he said.
I never knew. I was moved by his gesture. (I placed paper hearts with names of his kids, grand kids, great grand kids, and Linda. Scattered them across my dad's chest. I put in the words of the eulogy I spoke at his service. Erin had made a plaster project for him for his birthday or Father's Day or some occasion. It was at his house, in his room. She wanted to put that in the coffin. I couldn't part with the scarf he was teaching me to make. I wanted to hold that for myself.)
He was heading back to Linda's. We talked about meeting up again soon. I was looking forward to it. Restore. My word for the year.
From the front door sidelights, I watched him drive away. I watched him turn at the bend of the driveway. I watched him stop at the road. I watched him turn right onto my street, and then I didn't see him anymore. I went up to the office and cried in Shane's arms.
[wednesday] Later, I took Erin to McDonalds. I called Lori to see if she wanted lunch. She asked for a fish sandwich and small fries. We brought them to her. I was happy to serve her.
Now, home. Coffee consumed. I ate apples slathered in almond butter. I walked up to the mailbox, past my dad's truck. Erin's out playing in the late day sunshine. I feel an exhaustion, weighty. Emotional days of driving and consolidating, and more ahead.
I thought that first week, the funeral week, would be the hardest. It was busy, and it was hard. But it was just the start of harder things.