The Obituary: A Reflection

Thanksgiving 2014

On this, the first anniversary of my father’s passing, I am sharing an essay I wrote on the flight home after what I thought would be the last time I ever saw him. While waiting for the plane to reach cruising altitude so I could use my laptop, I started scribbling in a little spiral notebook, and I just couldn’t stop. Once the piece was written, I wasn’t sure what to do with it. Put it away? Publish it somewhere? I couldn’t decide. It was so personal. But as we completed this year of firsts – first Father’s Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter without Dad – and approached this solemn anniversary, I realized I was ready to share these words. I’m sure so many of you will be able to relate to my experience of love and loss.

 

 

The Obituary

By Dana Corbit Nussio

Feb. 16, 2016

Feb. 13, 2016

I wrote my dad’s obituary last night. Even saying it now sounds strange. Wrong. After all, he’s still very much alive. I kissed him good-bye only twenty-five hours ago. He was walking slowly, carefully, but under his own power, as he pushed that rolling walker down the hall of his assisted living facility toward a dinner he would probably enjoy but wouldn’t really taste or be able to recall tomorrow.

I kissed him good-bye twice, I remember now, once in his tiny apartment that was really just a bedroom and once in that circular main area near the dining room. That place where some of the women gather every time I visit, none of them talking to each other.  Just waiting and watching for guests who never come. I could feel their curious gazes on me as I crossed the room to him and reached out for one more kiss on that stubble-roughened cheek. One more chance to say “I love you.” Not caring if all of them heard me say it but praying he would since he seldom hears me now when he can’t read my lips.

I squeezed his frail shoulders once, not too tightly, and then let go because I had to, turning away quickly so he couldn’t see the tears in my eyes. Even though it might have been the last time I ever hugged him.

I wrote my dad’s obituary last night. I know that’s the same for everyone, though the order of events is fluid. There are no guarantees of a tomorrow for any of us. But for Dad, the promise of many sunrises and sunsets is becoming as weak as his lungs. Cancer inside them is pillaging any remaining healthy tissue, killing him, breath by labored breath. My sister is in Tennessee watching the whole sad process and doing most of the work, while I’m three states away, filled with guilt because I can’t be there.

My daddy. Was yesterday the last time I’ll ever see him? Ever see that spark of humor in his eyes? Hear him tell me he’s proud of me when I’ve been misguidedly chasing his approval most of my life.

c. 1985

He left a touch of his cologne on my coat. I remember that now from my seat at thirty-six-thousand feet, the “Fasten Seatbelts” sign lit above me, the sunset bleeding orange over the western horizon outside my window. I grab my coat from the empty seat next to me.  I sniff at the collar. And sniff. Can I still smell him there? Is the mark of the first man who ever cradled me in his arms, the first man I ever loved, still there? I don’t know. I’m not sure. Is it really there, or am I just willing it to be?

Desperate, I inhale once more, hoping to catch a lingering whiff of my childhood, memories probably edited to make them a little less sad for those who read my stories. For myself as well. I recall them with a child-like innocence that a writer must conjure, just like the characters born in my mind.  Deleting some of the less pleasant moments for my own sake.

1990

I wrote my dad’s obituary last night. A simple recollection of an ordinary life that will be remembered without fanfare by precious few except his two daughters, the very people he hurt sometimes, but loved the best he could. The abbreviated notice doesn’t even contain the whole story. The twists and re-directions. The lifelong battle with demons inside twelve-ounce cans and tissue-searing packs of twenty. The arrivals and departures of stepmothers and step-siblings. Promises made and broken like the twist of a turnstile. Even one tragic passing in that awkward chasm of divorce.

Those are the things I couldn’t tell inside that formulaic collection of words I’d written for so many strangers during my newspaper-reporter days. Were the obituaries I wrote for those other people as empty as this one, just as devoid of the truth in the lives they recorded? I’m not sure, but I know these are the true puzzle pieces that marked my father’s life. And my sister’s. And mine.

I wrote my dad’s obituary last night. I wrote it, but I won’t show it to him, though it is perfectly pleasant and sterile and kind. Unless he asks. And he’s not asking a lot of questions right now, except how his body will be transported back to Kokomo, Indiana, for burial. To the city where a scared little boy and his family made that journey from Arkansas for work some sixty years ago. To the place where he lived most of his life and to the cemetery spot next to his late wife and where the unofficial plot of all our relatives looks like a family reunion.

I wrote my dad’s obituary last night. After promising him I would be there to see him when I could get off work again in seven weeks. And after making hotel reservations that were guaranteed refundable, just in case. He counted the weeks on his fingers against his two-month predicted death sentence, considered for a few long seconds and then shrugged.

“I plan to still be here,” he said with a small smile.

I hope so, Dad. I hope so.

***

I was blessed to have one last visit with my father before he passed away. It felt like a gift, and it was. 

Still missing you, Dad. See you soon!

 

James O. Corbit – 9/10/37- 4/30/16

 

 

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Dad’s Album: A Daughter’s Life in Pictures

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I can’t believe it’s been nearly four months already. Four months since my sister and I experienced one of those life events that we all know is coming, but we dread it all the same. We lost our father.  After choosing to suspend cancer treatment a few months before, Dad passed away on April 30. A flurry of events in blurry lines and awkward words followed, and I was too busy just getting through the days to slow down and focus on the memories. That’s my excuse for not returning before now to those boxes of old photos I brought home after the funeral. That, and I was just too sad.

But this week when I needed a picture for a project, I started digging through the piles of photos and newspaper clippings that celebrated several generations of my family’s history. And under one of the piles, I found it: the album my dad made for me. It has my senior photo on the front cover and the name “Dana” in my dad’s handwriting on the spine. Dad had two of these albums in his book collection – one with my sister’s name and one with mine. This was one of our father’s final gifts to us – a record of our lives through his eyes.

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I know it shouldn’t surprise me that my parent would have kept an album with photos of me, but it did. This was my dad. The father who amicably divorced my mom when I was just three years old. The same man who had a few more marriages and divorces and was a beloved stepfather to several other kids along the way. There were times when I wasn’t sure where I fit into all of that. What I didn’t know back then was that all through those transitions and chaos, Dad had taken the time to quietly tuck away pieces that would mean the world to his daughters when he was gone. Things that would say he loved us and was proud of us.

My book is amazing. It has my birth announcement; my whole collection of school photos, even the awkward years; and pictures from my high school dances, our wedding, baby shower and births of our daughters. Dad collected flyers from things like my National Honor Society induction and college graduation, newspaper clippings from academic stuff and poems I wrote for the church bulletin. There’s even a note in loopy teenage handwriting, where I claimed to be out with a certain longtime boyfriend, but “honestly” doing  homework. All of the pieces are carefully mounted with plastic corners and stored behind protective sleeves.

It’s strange how I never knew that Dad was a keeper of memories, at least not until a year before his passing, when I was helping him downsize for a move to an assisted-living facility. We laughed together as we went through his other albums and photo boxes that contained items ranging from his youth basketball team photos and childhood snapshots back in Arkansas to the invitation for his wedding to my mom. My sister and I have divided all of those keepsakes now. We are now the keepers of memories.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As I flip through my own album, I am sad to see how few of these photos Dad appeared in himself. Sure, he probably was behind the camera in most, and there are a few – with me at our wedding and with our newborn daughter. But every time I look at this album, I will think of my father and the time and care he took in recording my life in pictures.

 

 

 

I miss you, Dad! Rest in peace!

James Corbit 1937-2016

DadDana1

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