The Men are Gone

When people you love die, how does one fill in those holes that they left? Not only the physical space that they left–at the dinner table, on the couch, at family parties–but the empty spaces that are now in your brain, your heart, or even your senses. The smells you miss, the sounds, the sight of them. You’re reminded of them when you get a whiff of their cologne or the soap they used or the cookies they made. But is that why you can sometimes hear their voice? Or see them in the grocery store parking lot? All because your brain is trying to fill in those gaps?

When my brother died, I ate everything I could to fill in those holes his absence created. I needed to feel good for just a few seconds, and sometimes that cookie or whipped cream did just that. Dad has been gone for four weeks, and although I think I’m doing ok, I find myself drinking more. And when I’m not drinking, I’m eating. And when I eat I often think, “Dad would have liked this.” I’m justifying all the eating with the thought that I need to eat for him now that he’s gone. Is it ridiculous? Of course it is. Yet I haven’t been able to stop myself.

I went to the doctor just 10 days after Dad died. It was just my annual exam, but with a new medical provider. When she got to the question about stress, I started to sob. Here I am naked, in a paper gown, sitting on a damn table, and telling her about my life for the past 20 months starting with Dad’s death and going backwards, ending with Phil’s death. I told her I need grief counseling but I just can’t seem to do it. It’s like how I treat my brother’s ashes. Many of my family members have necklaces with his ashes in them, but I have a pill bottle that sits in my vitamin cupboard. I don’t want anything permanent because then he’s really gone. Forever.

At Dad’s funeral, I stayed near his casket until it was time for them to take him away. When they tucked part of the lining around Dad and closed the casket forever, my knees started to buckle and I had to sit down. There may have been the sound of keening coming from my mouth, but I don’t remember hearing anything. I know I had my niece on one side of me and my mother on the other and we were all crying, but that memory holds no sound.

My medical provider has lists of counselors “for when I’m ready” she said, but also offered an anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication which I refused. I know I have to take some control of my life and stop filling in those empty spaces with food or alcohol, and I figure it’s not the right time to introduce any kind of drug I might enjoy too much. I’m not a complete mess, I promise. I’m ok much of the time, but I have to learn once again, to find my new normal.

Last night was the first night I’ve dreamt of my father. It was kind of a funny dream, where he had on a holey t-shirt and I had to encourage him to get a new one on, but he smiled and laughed and was wearing suspenders. Parts of it felt like a memory, but it wasn’t. It was just so good to see him and hear him again. I miss the Williams men so, so much. As long as I can hold onto memories and stories about both Phil and Dad, then I should be ok, right?

This was taken at my house a while ago. I like how neither one has a big smile but a tiny one.
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I love you, Dad.

As I sat beside my father’s hospital bed last Sunday, I glanced up at the clock and saw that it was 6:30 am. I thought about the local Irish pub that was already opening up because it was St. Patrick’s Day, their busiest time of year. I found it quite ironic that my papa, a recovering alcoholic of over 31 years, would die on a day when people around the country would be celebrating with booze. I can imagine him shaking his head and give a little cynical chuckle at that.

For over 18 hours my father’s family gathered beside his bed to relax him and soothe him and to say our goodbyes. Dad was not conscious throughout much of the day, but when he was, he told all of us how beautiful he thought we were and that he loved us. But a few times my dad said things in this semi-conscious state that just broke my heart. When my stepsister was swabbing the inside of his dry mouth trying to give him some relief, he said, “No. I’m not worthy.” That took my breath away. Did Dad really not believe that he was worthy of a little kindness and relief from his suffering?

Dad made many mistakes in his younger years and when his children were young. He had a deep remorse for his actions while under the influence, but I always felt he made amends for everything he did. He found God shortly after becoming sober and although the church or his religion were not my cup of tea (nor my siblings), it was good for him. He was still Dad. He loved to laugh and constantly made us laugh (see where my brother got it from?) and he was a really good person. He taught nearly every one of his children and grandchildren how to fish, and his love for all of us was always evident. So as we sat beside him just one week ago, I smoothed out Dad’s forehead and told him what a good man he was, that he had righted all of his wrongs, and that it was ok to go. My stepmom assured him that we would all be ok, and I told him he had people to see. I may not believe in much, but my father did. So if there is an afterlife, he needed to go find my brother and hold him tight.

In a way, I feel like Dad gave me one last gift by allowing me to be there when he died. I was not there when my brother died, but I was able to say goodbye to Phil while he was completely conscious. I still struggle with knowing that I didn’t say enough to him, but he knew that I loved him and I suppose that has to be enough. I don’t know if Dad really knew I was there. My stepmom thinks he did, but I have my doubts. Yet….I was there. I don’t know how much comfort that was to him, but it comforts me in a way I can’t fully comprehend yet.

Dad supported and encouraged me throughout my high school and college years, and although he could never financially support me, he always told me how proud he was and happy he was for me. He was even excited for me when I got my library director position just last month. His obvious joy for me made me even more proud, if that makes sense. So maybe me being there for him during his last hours was just a small way that I could repay him for his love and support for me over the years? I don’t know.

I will miss my father every day. I am still having a hard time at the thought of never seeing him again. Never hearing his laugh or his singing ever again. I am hoping beyond hope that there is a recording of my father’s voice somewhere that I will be able to listen to. I don’t want to forget, but I am afraid that I will.

My boy and my dad about 10 years ago.