Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Black Joke

Dad and me. April 1977
I wasn't sure I should write this blog. Too personal, too much self-pity maybe. But this is how I purge my heart. I'm a writer, and this is what I do. Bear with me. If grief and loss are something you don't wish to read about, stop now. I'm trying to sort through stuff.

On April 2nd, 2017, my father passed from heart failure. He was only seventy years old. I know seventy is not young, but it's too young to die. Especially for my father. The word 'spry' doesn't begin to describe him. Spry describes seniors who still have the get-up-and-go. He was never old in the first place.

Four months ago, my father had a heart attack, and the family was blindsided. My father quit smoking forty years ago. He rarely had more than two beers at a sitting. He only ever had a weight problem at Christmas, when everyone would gift him with pistachios. He ate those like a squirrel preparing to hibernate. He had all his blonde hair, and always looked ten years younger than his actual age. How the hell did this happen? We don't know, but he never recovered.

I can't begin to tell you how angry I am. Why?! Why him? Why does my mother have to live without him after 46+ years? Why did my 94 year old grandmother have to live to see the death of her third child? Why was he the first one to die? Why did he have to suffer so much in the last four months of his life after 70 years of fantastic health? Why wasn't I there for him? Why didn't it rain for his memorial like it does for good people? Why was it sunny and cold? Dad couldn't get warm anymore, so why did it have to be sunny AND cold? Stupid Alberta weather. WHY?

Speaking of anger, you know what's an insensitive thing to say to a grieving co-worker? "Smile!"and "Cheer up!" I seem to have misplaced my sense of humor.

Why him? I'm the one who is overweight, drinks and smokes. Why him and not me? I see old people walking the mall, and I wonder why they continue to live when he didn't. I shouldn't be so selfish. I can name at least five people from my home town of Fox Creek who could ask themselves the same thing after they lost a parent before me. Why them? Maybe the Black Joke is an odd chuckle when it isn't you.

Grief is HEAVY. I can barely move. I think my sister and I wanted to be brave. Jody got the phone call at work, and finished her shift. I got the phone call on my days off--Sunday, and went to work on Tuesday, without any time off. We're proud of our work ethic. Now I'm scared it's going to kill us. I can't speak for my sister, but I didn't take any time off for that first week. I had reasons that I'm still trying to justify.

I wanted to honor is memory by being strong. Neither of us ever called in sick, and we felt a sense of duty and loyalty to our jobs. Jody and I learned our work ethic from our parents, and we felt the need to keep it. And I'm speaking for myself when I say I worked because I feel a sense of guilt.

I had a disturbing dream after learning of my father's death. I dreamed that I was at an airshow, with all manner of aircraft flying through the air. I noticed these hot air balloons, they were black, dark blue, and dark red striped. They had jesters on them, and were piloted by men in jester costumes. Thick black smoke streamed from beneath them.

It was time for my plane to leave. I watched out the window, nervous about bypassing these strange balloons, and how did they get away with belching pollution like that? We passed them and I noticed with increasing agitation that we had entered the stratosphere. I could see the shape of the earth. It was then that I noticed I wasn't buckled in.
He got that plaque for the most miles flown to that event in Rimbey.

I used to say that God had a strange sense of humor because the biggest mystery was what happened after death. And you had to die to find the answers. Now I know death is the Black Joke, and it's not funny.

I went to my mother's house. She gave me a whole stack of unused socks to give to my husband. Turns out Daddy was unable to wear them. Something about them not being warm enough, and he wasn't able to pull them up by himself. Actually, he was in such bad shape, mom had to pull them up, despite the fact that she needs a walker everywhere she goes.

So I took the socks from the bed where my mother placed them, to the spare bedroom where my father slept the last four months of his life. They couldn't even sleep together because Daddy had to sprawl because he couldn't breathe. I'm holding an armload of unused socks, and my duffle bag is right next to the spot on the floor where my mother found my father's body.

I wonder.. Did he cry out for help? Was he able to? Or did he choke on the fluids building in his lungs? Was he cold? Was he scared? His left hand was still on the bed. Did he know what was happening to him? Was he trying to get up? Next thing I know, I am sobbing and trembling into an armload of socks.My Poor, Sweet, Daddy.

What have I learned from this? Never ask the universe for a little more time off from work. In fact, don't ask the universe for anything. It will make stuff happen in ways you don't want. Keep your family close. You'll never know when you'll need them, or worse--when you'll lose them. Let love be your motivation. That's what I've learned.
One of Dad's last photos. They used it for his obituary.

Right now, I'm trying to rest. No edits, no research, no new writing. I don't really have much of a choice, since dad's death has sucked my energy away. But death is a natural conclusion to life, and we will all lose someone we love at some time. This is my time to mourn, and when I'm done, I will honor my father by chasing my dreams. It's just going to take some time for the cracks in my shell to heal.


  1. Love you, Donna.

  2. Straight from your heart. I'm ever so glad you used your writing ability to convey your feelings. I'm proud that you are able to express and share your heart with us. Love you. ❤

    1. Thanks Sue <3 For everything. I love you too.

  3. Love you girl. You know if there's anything at all I can do, even if it's just listen while you break, you know how to get ahold of me 💜

  4. I'm so sorry for your loss, Donna. My father's death 7 years ago turned my life upside down (he was only 55) so I do know the pain you're enduring right now. Please know I'm always here if you need or want to talk or cry or rant or just anything. I'm sending you lots of love and light and good thoughts for peace. <3

    1. My God, Melissa. I am so sorry for your loss as well. My life IS upside down too. Thank you, THANK YOU for your kind words. <3

  5. I am reading almost 7 months later and crying.

    1. I just saw this....I'm sorry, little sister. I will feel so much better when you and mom are home with me in Edmonton <3 I love you very much.