Thursday, November 24, 2005

Three Years Ago, Part 3 of 13

Undated; I'm guessing late 1930s. When he was young, one of my father's jobs had been as a restaurant musician, playing accordion. At left, in a photo made into a postcard when it was taken, he wears the satin shirt that had been part of his uniform. He had carried the accordion through Europe during World War II and had also used it to teach.

He gave it to me when he retired, despite his assertion that I was "not built for it." But I didn't (and still don't) mind my breasts being mashed; I had performed with it at several conventions in the 80s. Sometimes I've used it in impromptu jam sessions. It has moved with me from New York to Massachusetts to Florida.

On November 26, 2002, two days before Thanksgiving, my father committed suicide. This series presents journal excerpts from that time and the aftermath of his death, edited for privacy purposes and omitting numerous "to do" lists....

11/25/02 approx 9:45 am, on the subway. I slept fairly well, though sinuses had me up for part of the night. Spoke with Mary about the tension in the place -- she is having to deal with hot flashes, and is not yet at the point where she feels comfortable simply excusing herself to take off a layer of clothing. I suggested that she treat the hot flashes in the same way as she does a bathroom break: give them the same priority and immediacy. For my part, I said, I've needed to learn to interrupt her when I have to, since that behavior was punished when I was growing up, and I'd learned to be excessively polite.

Approx 6 pm. En route home with groceries -- will pick up roast beef at Patty's Pantry, because Red was eating what we had earlier today.

Call earlier from Mary, whom I think begins to accept the possibility that Red has settled into his "elderly cat" phase. Time will tell. I see parallels between the cats and my father: succumbing to age yet living as freely as possible -- Red's continued jumping on the high stool despite the fact that it is more taxing for him now. My father's steadfast refusal to see a doctor despite his decline, which now seems to be accelerated. And parallels in our reactions and increased ability to let go. As Mary said -- and I agree -- there's probably nothing I can do unless he breaks something.

One day at a time, as always.

To do list:
1. Make plane reservation
2. Make van reservation
3. Files to coworkers
4. Cancel appointment with client
5. Change outgo message in office
6. Get father's lawyer info
7. Get carrying cash
8. Check FAA site: what not to carry on planes
9. Rent checks for apartment, studio; insurance check
10. Get release form signed and notarized; fax back to funeral home
11. Tell N I'm putting next week on bereavement leave
12. Get copy of my cousin J's estate stuff just in case [J had died in 2001; I'm her executor in a still-ongoing probate]
13. [list of phone numbers]

To pack:
1. Papers
2. Laptop
3. Cell phone and A/C
4. Energy bars if allowed on plane
5. Keys (all)
6. Clothes
7. Pills: Rx, ibuprofen
8. Glad rags
9. Contact info
10. Toiletries

11/28/02 7:20 pm, at my father's house. [I had flown down from Boston that day, which was Thanksgiving.] His tape of Rodrigo's Aranjuez plays. I have gone through papers (with many more to go), established my "room" in my mother's study, spoken to my father's friend E and his housekeeper S, done a To Do list, sent emails. Have had about 6 hrs sleep in the past 48.

When I got home on Tuesday the 26th, there was a message on the machine from the Sheriff's Department. Mary greeted me, told me there was a message -- and I had a feeling it was that my father was dead. I called.

His death was not completely unexpected. What I did not expect -- but what does not surprise me in retrospect -- was that he had committed suicide, been found with a bag over his head. His friend E had been visiting; he'd sent E home around 4:30 pm: "Come back after dinner." E did, and found the body -- lifted my father's hand; it fell down limp. Tried to rouse him without success. Called 911.

When I got the news, my hands did what they usually do in times of stress, and turned ice cold. Mary wanted me to eat -- I had to wait for my stomach to calm down.

E told me that my father refused to eat -- said he was starving himself. That for pain, he had been taking aspirin, Aleve, and Tylenol. That my father had left a suicide note (which the cops have), and had mailed a letter to me, which will arrive in Boston while I'm here.

A deputy sheriff just stopped by -- a neighbor had called him to report lights on in this house, knowing that my father had died. I asked him to thank her -- that it's good knowing that folks here look out for each other. Earlier today, the man who had helped my father after he'd backed up into a ditch a few days before he died stopped by to bring him a homecooked Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings. He didn't know my father had died -- gave the meal to me instead.

I feel very peaceful in this house, particularly with my father's tapes playing. Part of me is thrown back into childhood, seeing all the old furniture and chotchkas -- as E said, "He never threw anything out." There's a step stool in the garage that I remember from early childhood.

Having found all the major papers except title to the car, I just need to get that and the death certificates before meeting with the lawyer's staff. Tomorrow I go to the funeral home to get the death certificates -- and to bring photos of my father so that they can make an identification. My father specified no funeral, no viewing -- just cremate and scatter. I figure that, at least symbolically, he will join my mother in the Gulf of Mexico.

Thinking of a charity for collection at the office, I at first thought of following a coworker's lead and saying the Women's Center. I briefly mentioned the Hemlock Society to my supervisor as a possibility, but added that folks might not necessarily want to give to that. Then, later, I realized I wanted a group that brings classical music to disadvantaged kids. First I called the Boston Symphony Orchestra development office and left a message. Once I got into the office (I'd spent most of Wednesday at home, on the phone), I called a colleague who has a masters in music. She told me that the New England Conservatory has a program. I called, left a message, and was called back in the evening by the coordinator -- who was thrilled and very thankful -- the program is running on a shoestring, with no outside funding. It occurred to me that this is the perfect confluence of tributes to both my parents -- music on my father's end, working with disadvantaged kids and minorities on my mother's.

8:30 pm. Just spoke with Mary, who will call back. I did not tell her that I found, on the bedroom bureau, two blood-spotted handkerchiefs of my father's. Blood on the sheets, a stain on the rug. I don't know if it preceded his suicide or was a product of it.

Mary's brother and sister-in-law are expecting their first child, which makes a beautiful balance to my father's death. They had been trying for years, finally decided to give up, and voila! Wonderful, wonderful news.

My father had given items to E that he wants to return to me -- I insisted that unless he really does not want them, I'd like him to have them. There are 2 wool blankets, still in wonderful condition, that had been my paternal grandmother's. E and his wife hate wool. There's a small piano lamp whose replacement bulb can't be found. There's a set of dishes that they have hanging on the wall. E said my father pushed these items on him, insisted he take them.

My father's letter [written instructions hidden in a cabinet] advises me to sell the house quickly so that I don't have to worry about it. I find myself wanting to keep it, move here, live frugally -- do art, write, turn my mother's work room into a studio. There is something very coccooning about this place. Mary is all for moving down here, which makes me think we both need to spend time here, get to know the area, before we pull up roots.

I appreciate a coworker's sentiments yesterday: "Too much!" Knowing about my cousin's messy death and everything else that's happened this year.

Brooklyn, late 60s or early 70s. My father wears one of his old satin performance shirts, along with my mother's wig and sunglasses and one of my "hip" pendants. He has twisted my mother's cigarette into his closest approximation of a reefer and is flashing "peace".

His sense of humor -- which I have in some part inherited -- ranged from quirky to bizarre. (My mother was no slouch, either.) Sometimes, when I was an adolescent, I wore his satin shirts as dresses, belting them at the waist.


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