Over two rocking years ago, an aneurysm burst on my father’s infected aorta; he coughed blood, his eyes rolled in his head and he died in my mother’s arms. I screamed for help and held them both.
The second he was gone my world turned on its axis as his impact on my life rushed my heart. Power surged my body as my feet rooted to the floor, and I swear I could see the sky as the roof blew off the hospital ward.
My father was a famously calm man, whose strength of character and faithful love helped me feel secure; a prized professor who taught me, by example, how to follow my muse. When he realized I was the creative in the pack and ran with wolves, he taught me how to ground myself in reality, how to detach and how to stay cool. I’m a writer, an artist, a burning fire, and trust me, that was no easy feat. I wonder if he knows how far I have come, or how much farther I have to go? I wonder if he can see me now.
Papa, can you hear me?
My voice warbles in song.
The depth of his voice, and now its memory grows my love.
Father Knows Best’ by Brenda Keesal, 1969.
I have read story after story about loss and grief, and although I know they exist, it is rare to hear one like mine. I am a lucky woman, terrifically blessed: my first love was a bear of a man who wisely advised, had my back and held me close for fifty years. He didn’t always understand what made me tick, but he campaigned for my happiness and by the grace of his nature, he accepted me as I was, and that, my people, was his greatest gift. By the time the mountain of a body that housed him collapsed at 85 years, I realized with clarity and unusual peace of mind, that he had given me everything he had to give over the lifetime we shared– there was no need for grasping, no need for gluttony, no need for anything more. It may sound crude, but quite simply: I was blessed and I knew it: I had had enough.
48 hours before his last gasp, after the surgeon gave his treatment options and broke the penultimate bad news, I stood by Dad’s hospital bed, uncharacteristically quiet. I understood that he had just been given a death sentence, and all I could think of was – what could I possibly say or do to ease his way, as he had always eased mine? There was a hush as the news sunk in, and then my fading father lifted his dying eyes up to mine, and like a million times before, he said, Brenda, stay cool.
Postscript: While it might seem like ‘stay cool’ was tailor-made for such intensity as mine, to this day, I believe my father summoned the last ounce of his strength: to remind and talk to himself. In the last few days of his long life, he inadvertently revealed his personal technique and taught his very last student, his loving daughter, the secret to his legendary calm.
Check out this post on Huffington Post, The Secret to My Father’s Legendary Calm.
FAN THE FLAMES: One of my father’s passions was entrepreneurship. How he would have loved to see me work out a plan to make a living from my art.
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GOOD NEWS FLASH: Born and bred in Chicago, my Dad never gave up his US citizenship so he could continue to vote in the country that educated him. I think he would have voted for Bernie Sanders, or at least, I would have worked my ass off to swing his vote.
Here, my man Bernie calls for a federal investigation of Exxon. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.
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