Dad died exactly eight years ago today. I feel like many others who have lost people they love: how can it have been so long, we wonder? The day before dad died he rode his exercise bike and I had just tried to install a window portable air conditioner for my parents’ apartment that didn’t work. Although he was hot, he was a good sport.
Just over 24 hours later Dad had died and I was offered his ring that I still wear today from the kind nurse at Meridian Park Hospital. I’m grateful he took enough time before drawing that last breath so that four of his five kids, his wife, my spouse and daughter could all be with him in the hospital. Although Dad didn’t want to die, he feared a stroke that might debilitate him for months like what he watched his mother experience. He would have been okay with the way he went, if he had to go, and if he was able he’d add that he was appreciative “he even got a few bonus years.”
There are many gifts my dad gave me, including a few (impatience) we might not see so much as a gift. But the one I wish I could share with him now is the gift and love of writing that I only began to pursue in earnest shortly after his July 13, 2014 death. The craft of writing he had so mastered, even if he would not have had the patience to complete a book like his father nor did he have an interest in “blogging” late in life when I set up an account for him to share all his maritime knowledge. (“Already wrote it darling.”) Guess those are for me. I’d love to watch him as he might read passages in My Music Man, the happy and sad, but that’s not the way life works. So many places I think of my dad: just Sunday I paddled my kayak alone in the Narrows, aware of how often we traveled that Willamette River stretch when I was young with Dad at the helm. Yesterday as I biked to work, I rode the River Road, viewing what I call “Reflection Point” where I cried nearly every time I cycled those days after he died.
Perhaps for today, rather than create afresh it is best to share the final paragraphs of my memoir.
Now, as I write, I feel as if Dad is still alive. He crafts stories in my brain. And edits them. Reminding me of a detail I had forgotten. He helps me add that twist of humor: an emblem of him. And I feel happy as I feel him. Sometimes when I stop writing, I remember, again, like it just happened. Remember that he has died. That he no longer is here on earth.
I hang out near the Willamette. I stroll along the banks. I smell the smells. I listen to the music: the rhythm of the waves lapping against the shore. I feel the river with my eyes closed. I am reminded of Dad, and of our history. Good and bad. Our land and its future. Good and bad.
For me, now, Dad is in this winding emerald river, as it curves past farmland and beyond carp sucking at the sides of docks; as it flows past the Canby Ferry and the raging Willamette Falls, filtering through the millrace where soon, we hope, the locks will operate again; as it flows under fishing boats and dragon boats and the steamer Portland, bubbling under the bridges from Sellwood to St. John’s; as it pulls in the waters from Forest Park’s Balch Creek, mixing with a few of Dad’s ashes sifting through sediments; as it flows beyond Portland’s dry docks and joins the mighty Columbia, floating miles and years past steamships and canoes, bubbling under the Astoria-Meagler Bridge, joining, finally, the vast Pacific Ocean.My Music Man, Chapter 19: Watching the River Run
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