My father did not walk me down the aisle at my wedding. He was unable to make it there.
The man I met at 19 years old was a father to me and due to circumstances outside of any illusion of control we think we have over our lives as we spin on this rock, he was not able to come to my big day.
Months before he passed, we had a long telephone conversation. He was sick but wasn't coming out and saying what he felt, what he feared and what he knew. How much pain he was in. What was keeping him from going to get medical attention. Instead, as he was wasting away, he told me he had lost some weight and would likely be able to fit into one of his vintage suits.
I walked while I talked with him, as I am prone to do. It was nice out and I walked all around my patio and backyard, where we were planning on holding our wedding initially. I told him about what I was planning to do, what it would look like, how I would have the tables set, and the parts I hadn't totally nailed down yet. We talked food and flowers and dresses and weather, colors and people and music. I put the vision in my head into words. I showed him my wedding exactly as I saw it.
This was a special moment in time. A conversation shared between just the two of us. I had no idea at the time how important that phone call was. For him it was a beautiful story, a visual of what was to come, a plan for the future, a wonderful distraction.
For me, it came to represent the way he would know that day. In his mind, he had seen everything. Neither of us knew he wouldn't see it with his own eyes.
In April of 2011, Barry was admitted to the hospital. I was called while at the table of a family dinner with my in laws, and I spoke to my sister who told me he had said he was in incredible pain. She went to him and he looked awful. We had not seen him very recently and while I had heard he wasn't feeling well, I also had been told he was seeing the doctor regularly. That was only part of the story.
Barry was taken to the hospital on a Sunday and I saw him Monday with my younger brother Chris. We walked into the room and saw a skeleton of our father. A frame with his features spoke to us. I brought him some books to read and offered to go get him anything he needed from his house. I had quit yet another shitty job and it was ok, I had the time, I told him.
We left that room and I looked straight ahead as we left the building. At the car, I told Chris, "I am no doctor, and I don't know what they are going to say, but I do know this. Barry is dying. Of cancer."
Chris asked if I was sure. I was sure. In the gravest way about the worst thing, I was sure. The books would never be opened. He barely had the energy to speak to us. We had left so he could go back to sleep. I would never hold a real conversation with him again.
He had a massive stroke before they could do the biopsy. We had already gotten in touch with his daughter in England. She spoke to us, the doctors, the passport office. Arrangements were made.
We were told that his body had started the process of dying. That he had maybe a week. Hospice was called, he was moved to a private facility and we moved in and out of that room for the next several days holding vigil. We lived in that room, ate, slept, made plans, laughed, lived and cried.
On one of my short visits to my house, I watched as my husband took a call from his mother. I saw his face fall, then crumble into a carved mask of pain. A man I never see cry was unable to speak through his tears. I couldn't understand what was happening. Then it came out. His cousin, a life long sufferer of a very serious mental health issue, had taken her own life. The air left the room. I couldn't understand what was happening or what to do next. Through my own exhaustion and grief, I did not see how we would ever find our way out of this.
Three days later, I started making calls of my own.
Barry passed away the day after his daughter arrived. When she was alone with him and I had gone to the store next to the hospice to get us something to eat. I believe he waited for her. We had kept telling him she was coming.
I walked into the facility with the bag of food in my hand and I knew. I've never felt anything like that. It is a somber place, unusually quiet on all occasions but this was different. I turned the hall to his room and every step was a thundering echo in my ears. I made myself open the door. Amanda turned and we both collapsed into tears as she nodded to me, as if to say, Yes. Yes. He is gone.
There were many tears shed. A life lost. A blurred week of time spent with Amanda to have things handled and to help her get home with what she wanted to take back.
We got married in the Spring of 2012.
It was a small backyard wedding at the nearby home of a friend. A mild March day. I had suggested that we have a moment of silence or some sort of remembrance to honor those who could not be in attendance. I think the pain was too raw and too real and no one wanted that pointed out on this, a happy day, so I was shot down. In hindsight, that may have not been a mistake. Maybe we were not there, in the place where we could acknowledge the pain of our losses on a day where we gained so much. I don't know if I am there even now.
My brother walked me down the aisle. I carried a bouquet that cost more than my off the rack dress from a clearance department store. We ate and drank and danced and sang and when I looked around throughout the night, I saw it. The vision I had painted with words. It was exactly as I had envisioned, and just as I told Barry it would be. Whether there is any 'looking down' from any other place after death or not, I know that I held true to my vision and I know now just how much that last phone call meant to both of us.