Letter to my dad: A eulogy
I was in a car accident last May—you know because I called you crying from the tow truck. The incident took seconds to happen, but in my memory, that moment before the fenders caved in slid by like chilled honey falling from a spoon.
Those few heartbeats of panic, powerlessness and inevitability, stretched into months, is akin to what it felt like to witness you dying.
When cars collide in movies, the action crawls past in hyper detail and glass shards shimmer as they slide out of view. It’s a doom you know will arrive.
With ether car accident or terminal illness, there’s nothing to do but be carried along in the momentum of time, unsure of what will be when the dust settles.
Since April, I have been consumed with thoughts of the moments you’d miss—birthdays, Christmas, weddings, babies—and the memories of the time we’ve spent laughing, exchanging smartass comments, and discussing life.
These thoughts also made me realize the time we’ve wasted. The years we allowed an unfamiliarity with each other to smother love. How we lost sight of what’s important and had stopped trying to mend our tattered father-daughter relationship.
It seems the push we needed was cancer and the verdict that we had a year left to cram in love, closeness and memories, all of us desperate to make up for lost time and store up for the remainder of a lifetime without you.
I spent much of our nearly 24 years together struggling with what you were to me. You and I didn’t know how to be together. I couldn’t talk mechanics and you couldn’t talk art. I saw cars zipping around a race track, respecting the fervour to which you attended that passion, but not quite operating within that sphere. You named your son Dale, after Dale Ernhardt Sr., and so you two talked engines and horsepower together, trouble shooting through your own time as man and boy, then boss and apprentice.
But where did we stand? Could we talk politics? How about travel? What about business? There, something stuck there, and so, larger threads of connection grew through sharing client horror stories and giggles.
The shop you ran with Dale became mine to invest in too, and I chose to trust your praise and applied my skill sets. Your pride in me was a breath of air I’d been straining for my whole life. Knowing I have it moving forward, and realizing I’ve had it all along, helps ease the aching spot in my life where you’re supposed to be for decades to come.
When chemotherapy appointments came, you and I filled them with business planning, website creation and a few content interviews where I got to sit back and hear about the first time you took apart an engine. How you muscled through your beginning years of entrepreneurship in complete ignorance, learning as you went.
We alarmed fellow cancer clinic patients with my bubbles of laughter when you rehashed stories about your old Basset Hound Molson, or your trials with a water bed you purchased and promptly destroyed by filling it with hundreds of gallons more water than was called for, forgetting that the hose was still running.
I think you were surprised, yet also relieved when you discovered that we had created a pretty comfy understanding of each other. Age and a desire to be rid of the weight of previous turmoil gave us the space to heal and rebuild.
Looming mortality does wonders for conversation, closure, and closeness.
We used our shared humour to get through oncology appointments, tele-health nurse calls and tough days at the shop, but you were so tired. However, a lifetime of persevering had ingrained in you not just a heroic pain threshold but also a habit of weathering storms to the best of your ability.
You weathered this storm courageously and in increasingly shorter days at the shop, interrupted by a beautiful Saturday where I brought you breakfast. I walked through the bay doors and there you were, nearly your entire six feet and four inches hunched under the hood of a truck nearly as old as you were. That image and the peace on your face when you looked up and smiled at me is part of the memory I hold of you.
A blow we didn’t expect so soon was our second trip to the emergency room, when we wheeled you straight out of your CT scan and into surgery.
Just like that we were down to six weeks.
Despite cautions, I had held out hope that you’d see my 24th birthday. That we’d close out another summer where, yet again, we’d talk about but not get around to laying the interlock at Newboro, and maybe even, if we were incredibly lucky, we’d have one last Christmas.
I knew we probably weren’t going to get another Easter, besides, Dale and I (by industry standards) have outgrown your elaborate egg hunts that you’d sneak out of Newboro at four a.m. to set up. Hunts that required ATVs to track down all the treats that you hid up trees and flagpoles and on toboggans pushed into dry culverts.
Regardless of that timeline awareness, the sudden knowledge that we had mere weeks left shifted my world on its axis.
The day we learned you weren’t going to come out of the hospital, I held onto your fingers and told you how beautiful I think your hands are. “Why?” You asked, focusing on my face. “They’re just you,” I tried to explain, “cracked, scarred skin, crushed fingernails and big knuckles, they’re your resume.”
“Oh ya,” you rolled your eyes at me, “I’m a fucking work of art.”
Through it all, your sarcasm and sense of humour remained. “This is my daughter, Hannah,” you introduced me to your nurse. “Oh that makes sense,” she said, “you two look so much alike”. I looked at you and told you, “you should take that as a compliment.” You shook your head and corrected me saying that no, sweetheart, it was a compliment meant for me. That same day I warned that if you upset me I’d turn on a soap opera and leave you there, forced to watch it, you just calmly replied that you’d burn the hospital down.
Knowing your track record, I smiled thinking it genuinely was possible.
Dad, though I cannot fully put into words how devastated I am, just so you know, while I would of course choose the option where you are healthy and here with us, I wouldn’t change how you and I have mended who we are for each other.
Our recent time together has reconciled two parts of me, girl and woman.
The girl is the one you took fishing (but sent to mum when the hooks needed bait). The one who didn’t quite know how to talk with you but knew we were missing something. The girl you prewarmed the January-frigid, outhouse toilet seat for, sacrificing your warm cheeks. The one you tickled with your chin stubble. The one you taught how to change her oil. The one you destroyed countless spiders for and the one you raced into an icy, April river, only winning because you jumped in fully clothed, emerging in a quite damp, furry, Elmer Fudd hat.
The woman is the one you made laugh. The one you recognized you could believe in, and proved it to her again and again. The one you showed how to not give a fuck and be nothing but herself. The one who could not express how incredible it was when you hobbled into her art show. The one who called you from the seat of that tow truck and that you steadied and calmed down.
Dad, there is a space in my heart that is as full as was possible in the time we had together.
Dale and I will take care of each other. Mum and we wouldn’t have it any other way. Your family and friends love you beyond measure.
I know that where you are now you’ve got two good hips, less surgery scars and your ombré goatee (the height of fashion). You probably still own too many boats and cars and tools. Kim Mitchell’s “Patio Lanterns” is playing. You’ve got Molson the Wonder Dog at your side, a tall boy in hand and the sun is peacefully setting over the glorious water at Newboro.
I love you.