Thursday, March 20, 2014

My Father Visited Me…18 Months After He Died

What would have been my father’s 77th birthday in 2002 was hard. It came 18 months after he’d died. I’d already been through one of his birthdays without him, so it was strange to me that this one was more difficult than the first.

But then, I’d been in a crummy mood anyway. I had a raging case of PMS. My then-only son was not feeling well. My beloved spaniel, Raven, was sick, too, with what we thought was pneumonia, but turned out to be advanced-stage lung cancer. It was all-around a very bad day.

After the veterinarian called and gave us the news about Raven, we went to pick her up from the vet’s office. We then went to Oakland Cemetery, where my father is buried, to take him his gladiolus and chocolate bar. Raven went along, too. As we approached Dad’s grave, she immediately sniffed hard right over his name on the headstone. It was weird, but I also thought, well, at least somebody’s up there who’ll take care of her.

That evening, at bedtime, I lay on the floor with Raven and watched and listened to her struggle to breathe. She was down to 23 pounds, from her usual robust 35 pounds. Her chest rose and fell fast and shallow, and I thought about how similar Dad looked in those last days when he’d sleep.

I crawled into bed but barely slept. I woke up every hour to check on Raven. I’d think about Dad. I’d turn over onto the opposite hip. I got up at 2 a.m. and took half a Benadryl. I finally fell into a dream sleep, and that’s when it happened.

Dad visited me.

It was the first time I'd dreamt about him. I was in a post office. There was a long counter in the front, and tables at the back of the waiting area. I was at the back area, filling out some kind of paperwork. My back was turned away from the front counter.

Then I heard it – whistling, pitch-perfect whistling. I heard a man cracking corny jokes with a clerk at the counter. The man was quoting a limerick I knew I’d heard a thousand times before. I immediately stopped filling out papers. I stood there, frozen.

No, I thought. He can’t be here. He’s dead.

I slowly turned, and looked toward the counter.

There was my father, leaning on his left elbow, turned halfway toward the clerk, halfway toward me. He wore a blue-and-brown-striped Oxford shirt with countless pens and mechanical pencils stuck in the front pocket, and dark blue “Mr. Goodwrench” pants, both of which I’d bought him for his birthday one year. My father was pink and plump, like he was before his open-heart surgery in 1995 for quadruple bypass and an aortic valve replacement.

Dad looked at me, smiled and chuckled. He scared the buhjeezus out of me. I gasped and cried out. I thought, my God, I’m seeing a ghost! Joaquin woke me up. He said I was crying.

I thought about my dream all day long, and wondered why my father just stood there, looking at me and laughing. And then it came to me – that man loved sneaking up behind us and scaring us out of our skin. No doubt, he was laughing because he knew he’d just pulled off the mother of all pranks from beyond the grave. That is so George.

It was no ordinary dream. And, as in life, my father is no ordinary spirit.

Pops, on No. 13.


Pops, it's been 13 years, but even so, you're still here.

Martin, who was only 5 when you died, turns a funny phrase or makes a ridiculous pun and I reply, “Ooooooh, good one, George.” He writes a beautiful, well-composed story for class and I tell him that talent is a gift from me because of you, and your father, and four more generations back.

William, who didn’t arrive until three years after you died, lets out one of his pane-breaking belches, and I reply, “Really, George?” Then I grin and challenge him with “I’ll fight ya’ for the green pieces.”

William has your eyes – round and full of mischief. Martin has your mouth, in more ways than one. Your photos grace our walls and tabletops. We have your scrapbook. I talk about you often.

I want my boys to know you as much as they can, even though you aren’t here. Not only because you’re my father and their grandfather, but because you were so full of integrity, objectivity, honesty, clarity … because you always did the right thing, no matter what.

From me, they’ll learn what an absent-minded, impossible, fallible, funny, brilliant father you were. From the stories that others wrote about you, they’ll learn what a curious, ethical, steadfast, veracious man you were.

We miss you down here, Dad. Don’t be a stranger. 

Here are the stories that ran about my father, George L. Thurston III, in January and March of 2001 in the Tallahassee Democrat: http://bit.ly/1jeo22c.