At one point, during my father’s time of declining health, which lasted three years, he said that he wanted to adopt my cousin Lisa as his daughter. I got so angry. She had been involved in my father’s care, being paid at the rate of about $7,000 a month. My brother Michael paid her with our parents’ money, even though I did not think that he should be using the little money that they had in this way. It was never clear to me exactly what Lisa was doing, although my brother never ceased to tell me that she was on call “24/7.” I feared the money would run out by the new year, which it did. My cousin is the daughter of my father’s middle brother, who died of a heart attack twenty-five years ago. She may have been looking at my father as the elderly parent she never got to help, although she was estranged from her own father for most of her adult life before he died. In any case, I felt that she had insinuated herself into his life, and how could he make her his daughter when he already had a daughter, me, and I had spent my whole life dealing with being that daughter? He never did anything about the adoption after seeing my reaction, but it may have been also that he just became too sick to implement some sort of adoption plan.
Part of my father’s eccentricity was his belief in particular sorts of spirituality. In another age he might have been labeled a mystic. He believed in reincarnation and astrology. He believed that a person’s life story and future and relationships could be seen in a correctly cast horoscope. He had software that he used to create horoscopes for anyone who wanted one. A number of years ago, he told his best friend Joe that he saw him dying in a fiery crash. Joe’s daughter never spoke to my father again after Joe’s car went over an embankment on the Henry Hudson Parkway and landed on the road below, killing Joe instantly—as though my father’s vision had caused the accident to occur.
My father believed that he had lived many times before, each time having some sort of problem with his left leg. In this present incarnation he had been shot in the leg during WWII, at the Battle of the Bulge. Nerve damage had caused the leg to shrivel and lose feeling, but he had been able to keep the limb and walk on it for over sixty years after he was wounded. At the age of eighty-eight, the circulation in the leg started to deteriorate and it had to be amputated. Although he had congestive heart failure and other health issues, he was not concerned. When he was a young man, a palm reader had read his hand and told him that he would live to be eighty-nine. He knew, since he was only eight-eight that he would pull through the operation and he did. In a drugged state after the amputation, he mumbled that he had discovered the answers to the universe, but that the phone wasn’t working so he couldn’t call and let anyone know. A year later, when he turned eighty-nine, he started to get a far-away look in his eyes. He stopped eating very much—although he would still ask for Breyer’s strawberry ice cream. He contracted a systemic infection, was on a respirator for two weeks, and died a month after his eighty-ninth birthday.
It has been a difficult year for me, not only because I was dealing with this loss. Other family issues arose as well. My mother’s health began to decline dramatically after dad died, and my brother continued to be very difficult to deal with under all this stress. He seems to believe that the burden of caring for our parents has fallen on him and he is deeply angry with me. I have tried my best to do what I can in these past few years, but he is a stubborn person who wants things his way and is not open to discussion. He wants me to help him put his plans into action, even though I do not agree with what he perceives as necessary. He has possession of my parents’ bankcard and money and I believe he is using it for his own purposes, as he lives way beyond his means and is always in debt. I am not even sure that there will be an unveiling of the gravestone, which is supposed to take place at the end of the year of mourning and signifies a re-entry into life for the mourners. He did not save any of dad’s insurance money for the stone, and the stone he requested from the government, as a veteran benefit, will arrive “who knows when.”
I just need to find my own way to end my mourning period. Writing this is part of my process. In some ways I feel freer to create now that he is gone. I am not sure why that is. He was always urging me to write, asking about my writing—yet in some ways it always felt too tied to him, as though my writing was somehow also his, another version of the misappropriated poems of long ago. He is gone. I am alone now, and what I write is mine alone.
(Part 1) | Part 2