My Dad would have been 48 this Boxing Day. I wished him a happy birthday three years ago, chatting casually about the ham he was cooking, what he and my grandmother did for Christmas, what his plans were for New Year’s Eve. He seemed happy. He’d finally won a disability settlement he’d been after for nearly eight years.
When I was a teenager, a metal beam fell from the ceiling of the factory where my Dad worked. With all the noise around him, he didn’t hear it fall and on impact the beam destroyed several vertebrates in his back. He could barely walk and was told he might be confined to wheelchair before he turned 50. He couldn’t work and so fought to get the money he deserved. Although he’d previously had issues with drugs and alcohol, he had worked hard my whole life in factories across America. The difficulties he faced after the accident finished him off, slowly. Over time he became addicted to prescription pain killers, accidentally burnt down our family home, grew more violent, panicked. I knew when he finally won the settlement and decided to move to Florida, a hot house for pain management clinics, that he would not be around much longer. He died five months after the move.
Every December I think of him and the last time I heard his voice. In fact, I think about him a lot throughout the year, but in December it is hardest to think about other things. I try not to focus on the challenging times but instead think about the good, the best of who my Dad was, what he taught me. This year, I’ve even been glad to distract myself by reading hundreds of poems as the guest editor for a new anthology on loss by Little Lantern Press. The openness, bravery and grief others have faced continues to remind me that I’m not alone and that poetry can help bind us all together.
I am looking forward to running the next Death Writing workshop series in 2016 too so I can spend more time with people who lay their grief on the table and so I can have an excuse to share more poetry that moves me. In one of the last workshops this year, I shared this piece by Kim Dower which has brought me a strange sense of comfort today. Please enjoy and, if you are grieving, read some poetry. It helps:
Today everything made me sad.
I tried to cheer myself up
but nothing worked.
I reminded myself I don’t have
the debilitating, albeit rare disease
where your muscles turn
into bone. The sixteen-year-old girl
in the UK who has it still went to the prom
even though she was growing a second
skeleton inside her. I can’t even go
to the supermarket for milk,
and I have nothing wrong with me
except my left toenail keeps cracking
and they can’t figure out why.
I made myself watch a small white dog
bark at its own reflection in the front seat
of a van, thinking that might break the spell,
make me laugh, like watching a mini circus
without the clowns, but I realized I was all alone
pretending to share a moment with a dog
who didn’t know me.
I fantasied about crashing my car into a pole,
being rushed to the hospital, laid on a stretcher,
muffled voices whispering orders, veering
in and out of consciousness, but my sadness
wouldn’t budge. Then I thought of you
wearing your fabulously silly socks,
and how once when I was a girl I told a joke
at the dinner table and no one laughed,
and though you didn’t know me back then,
I know you would have laughed, smiling
that smile, you rushing through me
like a song played over and over.