My favorite picture of my dad, farm boy to the core and grinning from ear to ear. Once he found out I liked the overalls, he wore them every time he visited me.
But last time we visited… call it a premonition, call it whatever you like, it was the first time we cried when saying goodbye. We both knew we’d never see each other in person again. Neither of us could say it. But we knew.
About a year and a half later, they diagnosed him with cancer that had metastasized pretty much everywhere, to the point they couldn’t find the origin. I’d thought that you could do tests for that, but apparently not always. They gave him 3 months to live in May. He died November 12th, at 10:06 pm. He was at home, holding my mother’s hand, not in any pain, and she gave him permission to let go. And he just vanished.
He would have been 73 later that year, outliving almost all of his male relatives, who tended to die of unexpected heart problems between the ages of 45 and 65.
I dealt with my feelings around his imminent death by writing a whole lot of poetry, much of which is on my poetry blog. My mother wrote a poem too, after he died. Here is my mother’s poem, used with permission, copyright (c) 2014 Anna Baggs:
50 years 5 months 10 days How can I say they were not enough
when they were filled with so many adventures
so many plans realized
so many obstacles overcome
so many joys bubbling up in our days together
so many surprises unwrapped
so many special days celebrated
so many ideas nurtured to fruition
so much support for individual dreams
so many near misses averted
so many rough patches gotten through
so many problems overcome
so many hugs and kisses planted
so much love grown a heart nearly bursts to hold it all
so many laughs shared they echo inside me like a brook’s water over rounded stones
so much music and well worn books shared
so many pets loved and incorporated into our family
so much personal and professional growth fostered
In sickness and in health we supported one another
Until death do us part. And here is the surprise I find…
Death does not separate that which has grown together
and Love is forever and reaches through time in both directions
Bending back in our memories and forward in our hearts and actions.
No parting of spirits here….You will be in my heart forever….
Rest In Peace my best friend forever, Rest In Peace.
My father didn’t want a funeral. He wanted a simple burial in a pine box in a cemetery in the middle of the woods in the mountains he lived in and loved so much. He got to pick out his casket (known thereafter as “the pine box”) and grave (known thereafter as “the campsite”, and decorated in red for visibility like his real campsites were). He said the graveyard was so beautiful and peaceful, he didn’t want to leave. Nobody exactly said so, but I’m sure everyone including him was thinking “Soon, too soon, you won’t have to.” :-(
He read my poetry blog a lot. He said he got to know all kinds of things about me that he’d never known before. I think the tables have turned, but more on that later.
I had been trying to learn to write concisely, and that has included writing haiku and tanka (as well as things with the same basic format as haiku and tanka, but not quite the right subject matter).
He didn’t want a funeral, just a burial.
They dug a hole in the ground, lowered the pine box in, and my mom threw in five daisies from their garden, one for every decade of their marriage.
Then she read some prepared words, including three of my tanka:
When the box was in the ground everyone gathered around the grave. I said I wanted to say a few words and repeat them here.
“We his family commit Ron’s body to the ground.
Earth to earth, dust to dust, ashes to ashes.
May Goodness bless him and keep him.
May Love absorb him and its grace give him peace.”
I will now read three tankas written by our daughter Amelia.”
spectrolite looks brown
but shines rainbow colors when
the light hits it right
you were plain brown rock with
hidden colors no one saw
I dropped a rock
into the world’s deepest lake
turned and walked away
until I dropped that rock
never had I said goodbye
Love and the Ocean
just one drop of rain
fell into the wide ocean
dissolved in the sea
Ron dissolved into Love
where Love is, so too is Ron
I looked up then to find that every man had tears in his eyes and [name redacted for privacy] was openly weeping.
Your words Amelia, while written and read for your father had profound effect on grown men seasoned by war. Never under estimate how words can touch a heart.
I thanked all for coming and we all walked down together. I was given yet another rock found three feet into Ron’s campsite.
Kodiak and Daisy were in the car and together we drove to Happy Camp. Later coming back I saw [two of the men] on the hillside diligently shoveling in to fill up the grave.
They promised to leave a flat area on one side I think so I can come back with a chair whenever I want. I am glad for that. There is a temporary marker there with his name and dates that will stay there until a permanent stone is designed and fashioned.
I felt your father would have approved of everything done today.
It was the simple burial he wanted.
Thanks to each one of you his wishes were realized…
Heartfelt thanks, Mom”
My father knew he wouldn’t make it to the holidays, so he chose early, things to send to me: His hat collection (hats were very important and meaningful to him). A whole lot of what I’ve come to call “dad-shirts”. Rocks from his rock collection. A bag of treasures found around the farms and mountain homes he lived in as a child. And through all these things, plus some conversations we had very near the end (some of which involved us just staring at each other over Skype chat, not typing or saying a word), made me realize that he spoke my language all along, or rather that I spoke — inherited — his. The things my mother has been sending me of his, all tie together to communicate deeper truths about who he was, than I ever thought I’d know.
He was also working on a novel when he died. He was a good writer, far beter than me, it’s just like it came naturally to him after 70 years of not writing a thing. He took a lot of pride in the fact we were both working on novels at the same time, so now of course I have to finish mine.
Not many people knew my dad well. Because he was on the spectrum, and because somehow his appearance evoked stereotypes that had nothing to do with his personality. It took me a long time to realize that people outside the family had a very different view of him than people in the family did. That’s what the spectrolite poem was about.
I’m going to miss him forever, but at the same time, as always, he doesn’t feel like he’s gone. Just feels like he’s in a part of time I don’t have direct access to.