I don’t know that I’ve ever been a great daughter. You know what I mean, some daughters are involved with their families, so active, so present, so busy. I don’t think I’ve ever been that. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure that there were times that I brought joy and happiness and fun and laughter and goodness to my parents. My best years were probably my first twelve, before the boys and booze–my true great loves (and not in that order). I know I’ve made my parents proud (not with regard to the boys or booze); but I’d be toward the end of a long, long line of women receiving certificates of Outstanding Daughterness. I’m saying all this not so that you’ll pile on and say, “No, Susan, you’re awesome.” Or, “Don’t be so hard on yourself.” Or, “You aren’t that bad.” I know what I am. And more importantly, what I am not. I can acknowledge it with a sense of acceptance and freedom and that allows me to be more fully in the present.
As evidence of how poor my skills are, one of the areas that I worked to improve was phone communication. That is, when my mom called, instead of letting it go to voicemail and not returning the call for days or weeks, I actually answered. If I wasn’t able to answer, I returned the call as soon as I could. This was a huge improvement. I’m not exaggerating, huge. Think about that: if I can consider this an improvement, you can better understand where I started from. Again, not as a self-denigration, simply as an observational fact. I was a couple months into using my new phone answering skill when my mom called. And even though I was busy sitting around trying to find something to watch on Netflix and wishing I hadn’t forgot to buy microwave popcorn, I answered.
Something was wrong with my dad she said. They were on the way to the hospital. In an ambulance. Something about CPR. “I’m on my way,” I said.
It was a 50 minute drive, but my husband was getting us there quicker. On the highway then the curvy back road to the main route that was a straight shot to the hospital. He drove and I called my brother who lived hours away in another state. His wife answered. “Dad is on his way to the hospital. As soon as I get there and know more about what is going on and how he is doing I will let you know.” But mom had already called them. And maybe she was more clear with them. Or maybe they were more willing or just more able to hear what she said. My brother’s wife said, “No Susan, you don’t understand, your dad has died.”
She was wrong. Not about him being dead, she was right as rain about that. But about me understanding. As soon as she said it, I understood.
We got to the hospital ER and went through a makeshift security center: someone in a guard outfit standing at a podium. He handed us stick on ID tags and let us through. My aunts were there, my dad’s sisters, and my cousin. My dad’s best friend was there too, best friends since high school. They were all sitting in the hall. They showed us where to go, into a room where my mom and dad were. My mom was with her sister, talking, and my dad was lying on the hospital bed. It was propped up a little, so that if he had been alive he would have been comfortable watching the small TV attached high on the wall. But he wasn’t, alive or watching the TV. I went over to him and touched his hand. It was already colder than I remembered. “Oh daddy,” I said. Which was such a strange thing for me to say. Even in the moment I thought, “That’s a strange fucking thing for you to say.” I never called my dad, “daddy.” Till just then.
I stayed in there with my mom for a while. And my dad. And my husband. We went back out in the hall and exchanged “I’m sorry’s” and “I can’t believe its” and my cousin said something true about how shocking it must be to get a call like this. My dad’s friend looked so sad. He looked the saddest.
Of course the next hours and days were a whirlwind of activity and emotion. I saw my dad a couple of more times before they closed his coffin the final time. Sometimes I think about how cold he felt and how cold he must feel now. I know you might think that’s terribly morbid, but it’s what I think about. Not all the time of course, but occasionally, that’s a thought that comes to mind.
At some point I found the stick on ID the security guard had given me when I got to the ER that night, I never had put it on. I must have put it in my pocket or in my purse. It said VISITOR on it. So benign, hopeful, almost. I’ve kept it as some macabre souvenir. I stopped at a convenience store yesterday to use the bathroom and saw one in a garbage can and that’s what made me think of all of this. I wonder what happened to that woman who so casually tossed hers in the waste can in the bathroom stall? I wonder if she is ahead of me in the line for a certificate of Outstanding Daughterness? Did she get to Visit someone at the ER or only touch a cold arm and kiss a cold forehead? She didn’t keep it as a souvenir, so probably just a broken bone.