Thursday, March 22, 2007


A friend of mine is writing a book about the ways the dead or dying connect with the living. She's collecting real experiences and asked my writing group if anyone had an experience to tell her about. This is the email I just sent her. It's definitely in free-write/condensed form, and the contents may be a bit sappy for some, but I decided to post it anyway.


My dad died of colon cancer 5 days before my 22nd birthday. Ours was a strained, disappointed relationship for years even though we were pretty crazy about each other (he and my mom divorced when I was 3 and I hadn't lived with him since then, but I ALWAYS missed him, which was a lot of the disappointment part).

He told me he had cancer in May of '92, just before I was supposed to head to Alaska for my first summer as a driver/tour guide. He wouldn't let me stay home to care for him because he said I needed to experience our Last Frontier (he was a wild cowboy sheriff type) -- and he said he wasn't all that bad. I left reluctantly and kept in touch with occasional letters and phone calls, usually gushing about how exciting my life was. He was happy/receptive and didn't let on much about his condition. I had no idea how heroic or self-sacrificing he was being.

When I came home that October he called me and said he needed to see me. I went to his ranch where I was horribly, painfully surprised: he was this retching, retched skeleton of a man -- a 100 pound fragment of the 6'4" healthy father I'd always known -- and nobody had told me the truth about his condition. We had our awful, awkward bawling (last) words and embraces; I left numb and scared and sad and furious with myself for spending my summer in such oblivion when I could've been spending that time caring for and loving my dad, mending things with him. He died a week later, which, somehow I also hadn't really expected. I wasn't even there for that, which I also regretted.

That back story seems significant to understanding, then, the tremendous peace and warmth I felt the week after his memorial service, when I had an incredibly vivid dream: one morning I woke up feeling like I'd spent the entire night in his (healthy) presence -- I heard his laughter, felt his hand on my head, listened to him say how proud he was of me and how much he loved me. We'd spent the whole night just talking and visiting. When I woke up, I felt like we'd lovingly sent each other off on our separate journeys, sure of what we'd meant to each other, like everything was ok even though it had all gone so very weirdly. I simply laid in bed for an hour or so after that dream/visit, feeling what it had felt like to be with him, but sensing that feeling his presence was fleeting too.


Dude said...

Great essay, Anj. I could feel the warmth of your dream, and I get how much that meant to you.

Kari Q. said...


You and I have so much in common. My mom died when I was 21 just shy of my 22nd birthday. I don't think I knew that about your dad. The piece is wonderful and such a special experience to have had that dream.

I understand the desire to be there, but sometimes it's just not meant to be and maybe it's an even better thing to not have been there. It's hard to say. I had been traveling in Europe when she passed and fortunately was told by hers and my relatives in Norway. What a surreal experience.

Writing about this must be very healing.


ps Glad Aubs is better. What a scary thing!