I was digging on old hard drive for some lost technical illustration bits when I ran across this short essay I must have written at some point after my dad’s death of pancreatic cancer in 1998.

Eating for the dead

That fall when he was in the VA hospital in Helena, I walked to work dazzled. The wings of the pigeons flocking above me in the pink morning caught the sun and lit up with silver. Suddenly this world that he would leave and I would inherit seemed too radiant for me to bear. I scrubbed my motherʼs floors, desperately.

Three sisters and Mom and I in the same motel. I dreamed all night that the phone was ringing. When it rang a 5 am, I knew the sound, and lifted the receiver. After the tears, we tried to eat salads, soda crackers. We thought we should. It all tasted too sweet. Our conversation crackled with girlish electricity. I kicked up my heels in the Salt Lake City airport to make my sister smile. Our private jokes were a secret language that said what team we were on. The grief team.

But as the months went by, the shimmering unreality that had enbalmed my world during his illness faded a bit. The first searing moments of seeing a television show that he would have liked, or a book that I would have recommended to him turned to months when I seemed to be picking up little bits of him everywhere.

Driving down the middle of the road, like I always do, I would remember thatʼs the way he drove. That was my inheritance. That and two large cans of tomato juice that Mom said she would never drink. I never could seem to drink it either. So I kept the cans, full and heavy. Solid, like his arm.

I never touched another person who felt so heavy, like living granite. In Salt Lake I touched his fevered shoulder through the navy blue of his hospital gown. It was strange, he still felt so strong, so near death.

At the grocery store I see things he liked: Those waffle wafer cookies with the crisco-like filling between. Dreadful, dreadful sweet, but I buy them anyway. I have to see the birds and learn the things he ran out of time to learn. So I eat the wafer cookies, read boyish adventure stories and drive down the middle of the road.

 

 

Later, my friend John Akre made this animated film based on a conversation we had about food and death. We both contributed illustrations.

https://archive.org/details/eatingforthedead

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