I am losing him.
Each subsequent year, I forget a little more—the smell of his Old Spice, the shimmer off his salt and pepper hair, the way he’d lose his dentures and we’d have to rerun our errands or dig through trash cans. The sound of his voice and the way he could whistle. Man, could he whistle. I’ve never heard another soul whistle the way my dad could. He loved to stand at the top of the stairs that lead to the basement in my childhood home and whistle while he shined his shoes to impeccable perfection. I think he taught himself during the war. What else is there to do inside a tank as you rumble across Germany? But I can't be positive because he never spoke of the war, and I never asked.
What I can’t seem to forget, no matter how hard I try, is the last time I saw him. I can’t wipe my memory clean, shake the Etch-A-Sketch of the image of him dead in his nursing home bed. I think he'd been dead for a while before anyone noticed. By the time I arrived, he looked deflated, as if his skin rested on top of him like a summer sheet. The radiance that had existed in him–even as he spiraled into dementia, as he forgot my name and then his own, when he became bedridden and hallucinatory–disappeared. There would be no more whistling, no more laughing, no more hearing his good-natured fake Irish brogue, "Jesus, Mary and Joseph!” There was just no more.
So on days like today, I pull out the albums and try to remember. I try to replace that image, refresh the picture of death with his life, and to remember what it was like when I could pick up the phone and say, "What do you think, Dad?"
Today, I found this one. It's an old snapshot of my family on my dad's side. That's my dad in back, in the red vest and giving the camera the finger. His sister, my Aunt Peggy, is there with her hands over her mouth, and that's my Uncle Richard in front in the blue sweater next to my mom who's telling us to "read between the lines." This photo is a cherised moment because that's how I grew up, surrounded by humor and thinking, It's okay to give the world the finger as long as we do it with a laugh.
I'd like to give the world the finger right now, no joke though. Seven of the people in this picture are dead. Here's the truth: forgetting is easier. It's easier to wake up each day and carry on without them. It's easier to cover up the grief with chores and trips to the doctor and by volunteering to sell quesadillas in the snack shack. It's easier to forget than to acknowledge how desperate I am to be able to say, just one more time, "I love you, Dad."
So–I love you, Dad. I miss you. I cherish you. I understand how lucky I was to have you. I understand now that not every little girl grows up with a daddy who's also her hero, but I did and for that I am eternally grateful.