Hard to Believe,
and Not Hard to Believe

It’s hard to believe its been 35 years since the day my Dad died. I remember the summer of 1980 all too well. I remember going to see him at Carney, before his operation, when it was hoped that they would be able to remove the section of his esophagus with the tumor, and I remember coming home from finals to find out that it was inoperable. I didn’t realize then how bad the news was; I foolishly believed the optimistic stories of how effective chemotherapy could be, and wondered why he was getting radiation treatment instead. I didn’t learn until later how intractable esophageal cancer is.

I remember watching him waste away over that summer, in constant pain and fatigue. I remember sitting with my sister in the living room, and hearing him retching in the next room. Should we go try to help? Not much we could do. Would it embarrass him? Probably. We wound up doing nothing.

I remember my uncles and cousin coming to the house to insulate and finish it, and install a wood stove, to make things easier for my mother.

I remember having to explain to my college advisor, after a meeting about not missing any part of student teaching, that my father was very ill, and it was very likely that there would be a problem.

I remember taking the Riverside Line out to the host school the first day of school, and looking up at the distinctive parking garage of the Deaconess Hospital, and thinking that’s where Dad was. And I remember about an hour later, the principal of the school, who surely did not want this job, coming to tell me that my Dad was gone.

I remember the end of that week, after the funeral, walking through the empty house, and feeling how strange it was that he was gone and not coming back, and that this was the new normal.

And yet, it’s not hard at all to believe. Thirty-five years, after all, is a long time, and there’s been a lot of water under the bridge.

His children, who ranged from 21 down to almost 14, are now all grown, and three of them are married. I think he would have liked his sons and daughter in law.

There are now five grandchildren that he never knew, and never got to know him. He’s just a name and a fact and a set of pictures to them, the same way I never knew his father, which is a shame. Dad was great with kids. He would have played with them, and taught them how to do stuff and teased them and explained things to them. He loved having kids around. I remember, still, watching him paint when I was little, and the gentle tone he had as he explained how he created the shading on the sails he was painting.

I think he would have loved to have tagged along on the trip my brothers and my brother’s sons took out to Colorado.

Dad was a great photographer, and in his last couple of years, he was starting to let me use his cameras, and share his interest in photography. I’m not sure he would have gotten into digital photography, but he would have loved SLRs, and being able to compose through the viewfinder and switch lenses and meter automatically. I really wish we could have gone shooting together.

Dad loved the outdoors in general, and the Blue Hills in particular. I remember, about twenty years ago, renting a mountain bike, and riding through the network of paths there, and thinking he would have loved it. I think he would have enjoyed the company of his son-in-law Paul walking through the woods, and perhaps he would have even developed an interest in birding. And often, when I’m kayaking, I think, “Dad would have loved this.”

It’s hard to believe I’m now older than my Dad ever was.

It’s hard to believe my mother has been a widow longer than she’d been a wife.

Dad I am so grateful that we kids, out of ignorance, set up a twentieth anniversary party for them, because we thought that was the big number, rather than waiting for a twenty-fifth than never came.

It’s hard to believe that had he lived, he’d be 88 this year.

It’s hard to believe his brother has grown children who never knew him.

It’s hard to believe his son has a grown son who never knew him.

But it’s not hard to believe that we still miss him.