|THE LAST PICTURE I TOOK OF MY FATHER, JERRY ANDERSON|
His body had been weakened by chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Three days before his death, his beloved pit bull named Melon Head died from heart failure. I was his veterinarian. Dad passed away on a Saturday afternoon. My husband climbed on the roof cleaning the chimney. I crouched in the bathroom, changing my daughter's diaper when the phone rang. Naturally, I ignored it. After I had everything cleaned up, I came out into the kitchen and hit the PLAY MESSAGES button.
My poor mother, who had already suffered from Alzheimer's for almost ten years, spoke to me: "Jerry's at the bottom of the stairs. He's covered in blood and he won't speak to me. Why won't he speak to me?"
Dad had fallen to his death while attempting to attach a coat hook at the top.
At the time, I felt grateful he'd died so quickly, because his leukemia had weakened him to the point that he required a blood transfusion every two weeks just to stay alive. But he was always cold and never felt well. The doctor told him he needed to consider having chemo again, but Dad refused to give him an answer.
This way he didn't have to decide.
I still miss him, but I miss the parents of my childhood. Does everyone else feel this way when their parents die or lose their minds, I wonder.
THE POEM I WROTE ON HIS FIRST BIRTHDAY AFTER HE DIED
You wore the uniform of the elderly
A band aid on your elbow and a striped polo tee
A dark belt hiking up your faded old slacks
Your basement packed with things from the past
Inside your clothes
There was too much room
You had never been this skinny
You had never been so cold
I will never again hear your stories retold
Now that you’re gone
I see you everywhere
In slow moving vans
Pocket protectors and grey hair
But none of these strangers have your sputtering laugh
Or twenty-five napkins of penned physics graphs
None of them read me the Little House books
Or made TV dinners when Mom couldn’t cook
You ate Quaker Oat Squares
Sat on cracked vinyl chairs
Used felt tipped pens
Had church choir friends
Liked big band tunes
Duct taped vacuums
But now your basement is empty
And your clothes have been donated
There’s no more chocolate cake for your birthday
And I don’t feel like your little girl anymore