The phone rings. The call has finally come. Your mother or your father has slipped from this life. It is time for you to go wherever home is and say goodbye for the last time.
The death of a parent -- no matter our age -- is a time of reckoning, a time of endings and a time of beginnings. The death of a parent calls on us to readjust our sense of self and our understanding of our place in the world.
My phone call came at 1:30 a.m., August 31, 2009. My mother's voice simply saying, "He's gone. Come." So few words, such a huge shift in my world. The larger-than-life man who had defined me for so long was no longer here. As I pulled on jeans and a T-shirt and stuffed my feet into shoes, all I knew was that I had to move; I had to get to the place of his leaving, and acknowledge with my mother that my father was no more.
We sat together, my mother and me, as the emergency medical team asked questions and chirped and beeped to the powers that be. My father's body lay on the floor of the bathroom where a heart attack had finally claimed him. I had straightened his nightshirt, smoothed his hair and kissed his cooling forehead for the last time. A beach towel covered the body, flesh that had once housed his so-big person.
My brothers and sisters began to come home -- such a large clan, this issue of my father. The kitchen door through which we had welcomed one another for events simple and festive was now the avenue of stark, grief-shot faces simply walking in. We were coming home to a house already made smaller. Eyes wide in grief-wonder, we hugged and strove to breathe into one another, huddling for wordless comfort.
I watched in awe and love and great pride as my family assembled. Each person seemed to know where they would fit best as the duties of death began. Someone manned the phone and began to make the calls. Children and grandchildren always found a place with my mother, face blasted with the loss of her companion of 61 years. Arrangements were coming together for services and memorials. An obituary was being penned as the practicalities of saying goodbye were cataloged and catered to.
We were all together again. It had been many years since all of my tribe had gathered in one place. Dad had called us all home. In that, we were pleased and happy to see each other. Memories, large and small, familiar and new, were shared with laughter and tears. My oldest brother took the head of the table that night. The quiet shifting of family positions had begun.
It has been more than four years now since my father called us all home. The seams of the family have been resewn. The weave of the family cloth is still solid, but now has a new pattern. We have all adjusted and found our footing in a shifted world. And, amazingly, Dad is still here whenever we come together. He is in our smiles and the resemblance we share one to another. His imprint lies in our hearts and minds and so very, very firmly in our everyday memories of him.