And Then There Was Silence
That time my father died
Two It was only the second time I ever set foot in my father's apartment. This time I take in my surroundings but nothing reminds me of the man I once knew, except maybe the piles of books. My father loved to read and he loved to write, it seems he still does. But I’m in the house of a stranger, I don’t know any of the people in the picture frames and the walls are filled with, let's say 'interesting' art. I didn’t know he had such questionable taste. Or maybe I did, I remember the arguments my mother and him had every Christmas about the tree decorations. My mom wanted a classy all-silver Christmas tree, he wanted one of those awful trees with flashing lights and ornaments in every colour of the rainbow. They always settled on a mixed silver and red tree; a win for team mom if you ask me. I never expected my father’s apartment to look like this, it doesn’t feel like him. But then again, would anything? I open the door to his study and see books piling out of the bookshelves, hundreds of them stacked on the floor, multiple laptops scattered on his desk and the odd typewriter laying around with a half-written poem sticking out of it. It reminds me of the office he used to have in our home. Even that dusty, damp smell of old paper is the same.
We are sitting around in a circle on sofa's and makeshift chairs in my father’s living room: me, my brother, my mother, my grandma, my uncles and aunts. My father is there too, in a hospital bed right next to us. We sit there in silence as he is struggling to breathe. Every breath louder, more painful. We don't talk, what do you say when you are listening to someone die? My father is just a shimmer of the man he once was, he can't eat, drink, move or talk. I saw him just yesterday, I can’t believe how quickly he deteriorated. We have upped the dose of morphine several times but it doesn't seem to relieve his pain at all. In the last minutes of his life we all stand around his hospital bed. I feel bad. If I was dying, I don't know if I’d want all these people around me, staring at me, feeling sorry for me. The time in between his breaths begins to stretch out. Whole minutes pass without a single breath of air. But every time I think it is the last one, he loudly gasps for another. Every breath more unbearable to watch. He is a fighter. And though he is fighting for his life I am wishing he would let go.
And then there was silence. One I was out of the country when I got an email from my father. I hadn't seen or spoken to him in many years, it was strange seeing his name pop up on my phone. In the email he says he has cancer and the doctors gave him 6 months left to live. “I would like to see you but understand if you don't want to” he writes. My ticket back home wasn't for another week, my father says “there’s no rush, come when you can”. One week later I set foot in my father's home for the very first time. I go straight from the airport to his place, apparently he lives in Tilburg now. He is lying in bed when I walk into his room, he turns his head slowly and smiles. I smile back. His hair much greyer than I remember but just as thick as a decade ago, his face skinny with his cheeks sunken in. He looks like my father, but maybe with one of those filters that show you what you’ll look like when you’re old. I sit next to him on his bed. ‘I didn't think you would come’ he says. I tell him he is an idiot. We hug, he says he’s sorry, I tell him everything is fine and we cry. He is exhausted from our conversation though it only lasted a minute or five, barely able to keep his eyes open. I tell him to get some rest, walk out of the bedroom and close the door behind me. That is the last time we spoke. Three The third time I walk into his apartment, he isn't there. The hospital bed he laid in empty. Only one week after I got that email. One week into the 6 months he had left and he is gone. We meet with a funeral director to discuss what kind of funeral we want. I didn't realise you had to make so many stupid decisions when it comes to stupid funerals. What clothes will he wear? What colour flowers? What songs to play? What kind of casket do we want to bury him in, what colour, what shape, you even have to have an opinion on what screws you want. The funeral director wants to get to know my father better so he can write an appropriate speech for the funeral, he asks me questions but I don't know the answers. I feel embarrassed to tell him I didn't really know him. I don't know his friends, I don’t know if he played sports, I don’t know what he liked to wear or what kind of music he listened to. Frustrated, I walk away and sit down behind his desk in his study, on a squeaky chair very similar to the one he used to have when I was a kid. I’m angry because he left me, again. I regret not reaching out to him while he was still alive. I’m grateful we had that conversation, however short it might have been. I’m indifferent because, really, his death will not have any effect on my daily life at all. I try to just feel sad, that is what you’re supposed to feel when your father dies right? The more I try to make sense of all that is fighting within me the number I become until everything just goes silent, just like my father did. I don't feel angry, or happy or sad. I just feel nothing. It's been a little while since my father's passing. I haven't visited his grave yet. I don't know if I will. What would I say to him? Would I speak at all? We are both not great talkers; I don’t think that’s improved now that he is dead. I used to feel angry when I thought of him, but now I remember how smart he was, how funny he was and how nothing else matters. I can't help but think he waited to see me before he died, that he saved up all his energy to have one final talk with me before he let go.