Nonfiction by Maureen O’Leary
- Give away the twelve boxes of your dad’s clothes your mom packed for their move to assisted living where he only survives nine days after finally, painfully dying in hospice care which is nothing like the blissfully drugged good-bye you swear he was promised. His last night in the hospital before hospice he is high on morphine, talking to his sister who died decades ago but what follows are days of unconscious suffering that is impervious to painkillers of any kind. When it’s over you consider taking a sweatshirt or flannel from one of the boxes stored at your house to keep as a memento of better times but whenever you pass the stack of boxes he is there in your peripheral vision, and not as he was when you were young, always ready to hike with you and talk with you, but as he was in the last twenty years of his life steeped in dementia during which he was constantly pissed off with you. Take your dad’s clothes to the Goodwill in the back of your Prius and pretend you are a woman without feelings and pretend you don’t smell his cologne through the cardboard and be glad you haven’t cried once over his passing.
- When one of your own students shows up to class wearing one of your dad’s sweatshirts ask her where she got it and when she says the Goodwill, notice that your dad is back again in your peripheral vision like an oozing sty. Tell your student that the sweatshirt used to be your dad’s, a man who died, and hope this news will dissuade her. When she shows up wearing your dad’s sweatshirt again, leave her be. Teach your class. Pretend your dad isn’t camping out at your desk, rifling through your drawers and criticizing you for cramming the paper clips in with the hand sanitizers.
- At home, vacuum under the bed. Clear the clutter in your closets. When you find a stack of duplicate photos your mom took twenty-five years ago, notice how easy your oldest daughter was in your dad’s arms when she was a baby. How he made her laugh. Ignore the photograph of the baby crawling on the living room floor while you and your dad sit on opposite couches, both of you talking at the same time. This picture isn’t meant to be of you. This picture is meant to be of the baby. Nobody liked you and your dad when you spun off into private conversations leaving everybody else out. Wonder if the ghost in your peripheral vision is your dad pre- or post-losing his mind. Wonder what happened to the young woman talking to her dad while the baby crawled on the floor. Wonder if she’s haunting you too.
- Put the photographs in the box where unsorted photographs go and be glad that no one develops stacks of photographs anymore.
- Dream that your dad returns from the dead, as confused and in pain as he was at the end of his life. Dream that he is having a hard time talking to you about the shame he holds about the terrible ways he was hurt as a boy. Dream that you tell him he was supposed to leave already and that you already gave away all of his clothes.
- Build an altar on top of your bookcase with a wooden cross, a Buddha statue, and a bottle of sand your husband crafted on your first wedding anniversary. Add a card with a drawing of St. Brigid as well as a photograph of yourself in second grade writing with a pencil. Light a candle. Remember your friend who taught you to build altars. Remember she said you could get rid of a ghost by telling him to go away and do his own trauma work. Light the candle but don’t tell your dad to go away and do his own trauma work because you don’t really want him to leave.
- Light the candle on the altar and tell your dad that you never stopped needing him. Tell him that you still have the notebook with the African elephant on the cover he bought you when you were five and wanted to be a poet. The first poem in the notebook is called “My Daddy.” Notice that your dad disappears when you speak to him directly. Notice that while writing step seven is the first time you have cried about his death since he passed over a year ago.
- Light the candle on the altar. Tell your dad that you can’t do his trauma work for him. Tell him that he needs to do his own work. Or think about telling him. Wish you could do the work for him. Worry that he is afraid. Worry that he is alone.
- Remember your dad at the hospital four nights before he died when he talked about your aunt as if she were still alive because when he was a frightened child she let him crawl into her bed and sleep beside her. Decide to believe that your aunt is with him now. Decide to believe that she has her arms around him. Decide to believe that she is telling your dad it’s okay to rest.
- Tell your dad that it is okay to rest.
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