I knew he would die the moment he was diagnosed. So when he did, two years later, after liver cancer did its work, it felt…appropriate.

The death itself was messy. I watched him gasp for air, in a coma, supposedly unable to feel pain yet “he knows you are here with him,” until the last breath was drawn, his mouth and neck went taut for a few more unproductive attempts for air after that. Electrical impulses, they say, nothing more.

I can still hear the horrid crackle of his rapid breathing impeded by fluid, could set a metronome to its cadence. It was so fast, it felt panicked. It induced panic in us when we walked into his hospital room. It was a sound that demanded intervention, intervention he had made clear he did not want.

That sound, it haunted me. The first night without him I heard it in my ears, in the darkness of my room. And when I woke in the morning, gradually remembering where I was and why, I remembered. And just as I began to sink deeper into the bed, I felt him there, by the closet, looking at me. 

I don’t believe in ghosts. But I knew as if it were fact that he was there to see me remember his death, and to comfort me. Even if he was a projection of my imagination it diminished nothing. The feeling of him was so strong, I spoke out loud. I told him I knew why he was there, and that I loved him, and that this sucked.

I waited for more sadness but it didn’t come. I got up, and went about the day like a person thrust on stage without any lines. 

I ran. That is what I do. I put on my shoes and ran out the door of my childhood home, down the same streets I took to my high school every day, craving the track under my feet. About five minutes later on a residential street, I found my rhythm, and my breath fell in line with my feet, and instantly my father’s breathing came back to me. I continued on, horrified at the image, the sounds from me matching my memory of his identically. Any moment I was going to lose it completely, and I started looking for a good place in the open to breakdown. 

But then I realized something. This rate of breathing wasn’t as panicked as I had thought. It was a steady effort, working hard but not laboring, and until a moment ago I had been finding peace in that rhythm. If this is what my dad was experiencing, it wasn’t as frantic as I had imagined. It was work, but it was ok. I kept running. 

He came to me again on the track after my last lap, standing against a tree just past the finish line at the start of the bend, watching over me as I recovered from my effort. I couldn’t see him, but he was occupying space. There was no question, and again I spoke to him. How many times had he seen me run this track? How would I ever run without him? The tears came so powerfully I bent down and braced myself on the rubber. I watched my tears fall below me, and the pattern they made on the dry surface looked like art, pulling me out of the hole I was falling into. I got up, told him I loved him, hopped the fence and ran home. 

The past month has been awful. Most of the time I go on as if nothing happened, because I don’t know what else to do, and if you ask me how I am, which many people who care about me do, I would say “ok” because it seems that way at the time, but things have started cracking. I drive to the bottom of my street and can’t remember if I need to go right or left. I have no idea why I’m here or where I’m going. I look around me in the car for clues, open my spike bag to see what I brought with me. I can’t create. I get things done. I haven’t felt my dad since.

Until now. I saw a therapist a couple days ago, concerned about my current state, and she told me to get away from my daily schedule and sit in the quiet. That I was suppressing grief. Tonight, with Jesse away racing in Mont Tremblant, I packed up my car with supplies and Jude and headed to a nearby mountain lake. 

I set up my tent, and lit a fire. Jude has never camped, so this may end very badly, but for now he is asleep. And sitting by this fire alone, I felt him again. These words bring tears all over because it is true that in the sitting still I can grieve. In the stillness is when he is with me. In the stillness I am also destroyed. And I hate it. I hate this pain, this missing him. I miss so many things that haven’t even happened yet.  But I have to do it, because this past month I have been lost without him. 

   

Hug your dad for me.