We can talk all we want about the afterlife. We can guess and ponder, speculate and believe with an assurance so strong it convinces others to join our faith. But what do we really know? Nothing. OK, I know nothing. You might be convinced.
People tell me that Dad is looking down on me, that I should talk to him, tell him my troubles, ask for for help and for love. Sometimes I try to think cinematically, wondering if Dad hovers about in a trenchcoat, like the noir angels of Wenders’ Wings of Desire, or if there’s a secret I should know that he can impart, like Hamlet’s ghost. He’d like the theatricality of both, I think.
Problem is, I don’t–I can’t–believe any of this. My faith is strong, I think (compared to others, who knows?), and in that faith I believe that when you die you have total peace, total love. Nothing interferes with that.
Because of this I know that Dad cannot be looking down upon us, see this pain and grief and not be moved to pain and grief himself. If he sees it at all, he sees it as God does, lovingly, and with tremendous joy. But I don’t believe he sees us, I believe he is at total peace. In fact, I know this. I really do.
Dreams are still disappointments. Last evening I finally dreamt I saw Dad. My brother John and I were walking through some strange Southern town, a booming little town, but booming in a 1950s way: a vibrant little downtown, packed with people window shopping. No chain stores, all Mom and Pop general stores and little restaurants and bars, everybody knows everybody. It was strangely hilly, almost as hilly as San Francisco. The walk, therefore, was brisk.
We went to a movie theater where we knew Dad was catching a flick. It was shared with an arcade, and again it was old-style, all pinball machines, no video games. Dad came out finally, walking as he did under chemotherapy. With a little hitch in his step, but very determined. He was thin, but not too much so. But his face was puffy, and his eyes were watery, half closed, and set way back in that bloated face. We asked about the movie and he shrugged. We walked out and then I woke. There was no talking and no touching. He didn’t rub my shoulder with those strong hands of his. Nothing real at all, of course. This wasn’t a reassuring visitation, just old memories jumbling together. And afterward, nothing in my bedroom but silence.
There’s poetry and some kindly reassurance from friends and family. A former girlfriend of his, who remained the love of his life up to the end, tells me to talk to him. She does every day. A good friend gave me a poem that suggests he waits in another room, waiting. My aunt dreamed of him, and he told her that it was time to go, that he wasn’t himself anymore. How I would have loved to have heard that voice!
So I take a swim every day in memory. I write to try and keep those memories burning strong, but every fire must extinguish, and that frightens me. Thank God he loved cologne and incense, and perfumed every damned thing with this potpourri. Seriously, you can smell him on his coins, for Christ’s sake.
I look over his trinkets, thumb through his magic books, and try desperately to remember. That’s what I have now, is memory. But all I long for is to hold his hands once more.
Your father is dead.
From his old coats
I’ll make you little jackets;
I’ll make you little trousers
From his old pants.
There’ll be in his pockets
Things he used to put there,
Keys and pennies
Covered with tobacco;
Dan shall have the pennies
To save in his bank;
Anne shall have the keys
To make a pretty noise with.
Life must go on,
And the dead be forgotten;
Life must go on, Though good men die;
Anne, eat your breakfast;
Dan, take your medicine;
Life must go on;
I forget just why.
Edna St. Vincent Millay