When Dad Dies

Caverzasi, AP. “When Dad Dies.” Bad Idea – The Anthology. Ed. Jack Roberts and Daniel Stacey. London: Portico Books 2008. p22.

Approximately 20 years before I learned dad had an estimated eight years to live, I told him, “When you die, you will look like this.” Mouth and eyes wide open, I wagged my head until he scooped me up and said, “Bedtime, you.”

How do people actually look when they die? Bill, an octogenarian I befriended in my sophomore year at university, appeared badly bruised. Hands on his, I tried not to stare at the purple mass that spanned his shoulder and chest. He sobbed quietly, tearlessly. He had dried up. Karen Kristin, my dance teacher, dragged her oxygen tank up East 64th Street. I admired her pixie do and she patted where she once styled her bun. In her eyes, I read peace: the glimmer that yogis (suspect ones) and mothers-to-be radiate. She said, “Live for the moment.” I nodded when I should have asked how.

Once dad told us he had Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia – cancer of the lymphocytes, treatable, not curable -mom sometimes cried suddenly. But she echoed Karen Kristin.

“In some ways this is a blessing, Mandy. We live for today.”

How? What I noticed was that if dad snapped or bullied, or, as he once joked “had a beer in the AM,” she remained composed, gentle and patient.

“You love well,” I told mom.

“I hope to love Marko so well.”

“So you asked Marko to propose? And he did, and you accepted?” she asked.

“I live for the moment.”

Before the ceremony, I asked dad, “You ready? For our entrance? Our big moment?”

I expected dad to say, “Love you, kid” or quote Shakespeare or Einstein, “Gravitation is not responsible for people falling in love,” or something funny or wise. But he murmured, “Did you tell anyone? About my illness?”


But probably people had guessed. He had postponed chemotherapy for Marko and me, and the abnormal lymphocytes in his glands had caused his neck to swell nearly past his ears. Plus he tended to “rest his eyes” every time he sat.

“Because your grandparents said I looked strange.”

“I heard Grammie tell Gramps you only looked strange because you didn’t shave.”

Dad smiled up to his nostrils. His eyes seemed distant, dead. Today dad is slender, pale and minus muscle mass. Shirtless, his spine and shoulder blades protrude dreadfully. So I focus on his eyes. I see weariness, skepticism, humor, a great dad, and more life than I can currently comprehend.

But what about when the chemo eventually kills him? How will he look then?