Victoria Jelinek

Nov. 21, 2011: My father’s birthday
November 21, 2011, 10:48 am
Filed under: Letters to Leo | Tags: , , , ,

Today is my father’s birthday, your grandpa…he died the day before his and my mother’s 48th wedding anniversary…August 22nd, 2001. I was there. Me, (my brother and sister) M and J had given him a sponge bath the night before – rather ceremonial…that same evening, my dad’s last evening alive, though he wasn’t conscious, my ex-husband, T, had cooked salmon lasagna and brought a bottle of absinthe from GA (not sold in the states – it’s said Toulouse Lautrec, the painter, went crazy on it) and he, my mother and me drank that, firing up spoons of sugar to put into it, talking quietly. Your aunt J sang ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ by Queen, in it’s entirety, to her little daughter, your cousin K, to get her to sleep on the couch nearby…her voice was like a flute. It was a lovely, somber evening. We had ‘shifts’ to administer morphine to my father – groups of two – and T and I went to bed with a shift to come up two hours later. But an hour after we went to bed, your uncle M came to the door of our bedroom and said that I was to come downstairs. I went and my father was dead. We stood in a circle around his hospital bed in the den, our arms around each other encircling him. I remember thinking he looked smaller….that maybe there was something to a soul ‘inflating’ a body.

I remember it started to rain heavily then…the hospice workers came in the dark and in the rain, in a type of white cargo van with no windows; it was a woman with really fried-out 80’s-type hair and a run in her pantyhose, and a man in a cheap suit. They put my father’s body on a gurney in a black plastic bag, zipped him into it and took him away into the rainy night. I went upstairs and cried and cried in bed. The next morning, I stood on the front porch, it was still raining, and called family and close friends to let them know what had happened. I’d borrowed a dear friend L’s old VW convertible bug (as I came from LA) and drove that day back to the airport in it, the rain coming through holes in the ceiling of the car – the whole world seemed to be crying.

T and I boarded a plane for LA. I was in shock. We couldn’t get seats together and no one would move to let us sit next together and it was started to dawn on me that my father had just died. Silent tears started rolling down my face. T was up and trying to convince the stewardesses to move us, to do something, that he needed to be near me to comfort me. I remember this man and woman who were flirting with each other across the aisle, the woman sitting next to me as I sat in the middle seat, saying ‘Oh dear! Now look at him, he’s walking around as we’re taxi-ing’ as a ‘dry’ sort of comic making-fun-of-others for the benefit of the man, and I quietly said ‘My father died today. He wants to sit next to me.’ This shamed them enough to stop talking but not to offer up their seat. Then quietly a woman at the window said ‘He can have mine.’ By the time I got to LA – only about a 2.5 hour flight – I was a mess and really regretted flying back ‘home.’ I called my family’s house in McMinnville from the LA airport and my mother put my father’s brother D  – who had just arrived from Nebraska that day, but not in time to see his brother – on the phone. I remember being shocked, and soothed, and saddened because my Uncle D sounded exactly like my father – there was a certain accent, Midwestern USA, but soft, too…it’s hard for me to explain it but I’d recognize that voice anywhere…
In the weeks and months that followed my father’s death I had this irrational desire to talk to him for even just an hour…I would beg the gods I didn’t believe in for this hour. I wanted the opportunity to apologize for being such a willful, often unappreciative little brat growing up…I wanted him to know that I missed him, and that I’d not realized how much I would…that I was sorry for not appreciating him more while I still had the opportunity. Finally, I gave myself solace remembering three very poignant telephone conversations with my father that last year: one was from LA and I remember speaking to him about his living will, his wishes to ‘live and die with dignity’ and the humanity of this…the other was from Cologne and I’d had a breakdown feeling that I’d wasted my life, squandered the opportunities available to me, and he’d told me that I hadn’t, that he was proud of me…and the other was in McMinnville as he’d shown me where all his sketches and paintings were and complimented me on my understanding of his work. I still ‘sting’ at the memory of a couple of times that I was hateful in the wake of his being kind and thoughtful, vulnerable, particularly during his last trip to LA, but I couldn’t do more than I did at the time with what I knew…and I believe, I hope, that he knew that I loved him.

1 Comment so far
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This is a really beautiful account; I like it a lot.

Comment by Ferdinand

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