I have no sense of how many minutes passed before the phone rang again. Somewhere in between the calls from my brother I phoned my grandmother. She said, "Dear, he wasn’t breathing for a long time. He’s gone now."
When my brother phoned from the hospital he told me that he was going to put the ER doctor on the phone. I needed to give my permission for my father to die. I did. I don’t remember what I said or how I said it - but he is dead now.
I have two daughters. Both are adopted from China. My youngest was adopted first, at age 2½ and was 6 when my father died. My oldest lived in China for almost 8 years before joining our family. She was 10½ when my father died.
The night of my father’s death I remember saying out loud, but to no one in particular, "I don’t know how to live without a parent."
My oldest daughter heard my cry. She came to my side, placed her hand on my shoulder and said, "You just do."
My youngest daughter refused to leave my side. A well of fear emerged from within her and she raged and wailed in anger at the thought of being separated from me. The equation was simple— if I could lose my father then she could lose me.
Somewhere in the first days of death, I remember hearing my oldest daughter say,"We should burn money for Grandy so he can buy what he needs in Heaven."
In the fog of grief many voices floated by. The voices of strangers, people at banks, cremation services, social security. Voices emerged from piles of letters that my father saved when he was serving in the armed forces in Korea. There were the voices of friends and family that reminded me that I was not the one who left... I was still here.
Sometimes in my dreams there was the voice of my father. Once I dreamed that he was in bed and struggling to get up. He was trying to talk to me. I reminded him that he was dead and that it was OK to leave me.
When the shroud of grief began to unravel, I asked my oldest daughter to tell me about burning money for the dead. She said, every year her village community would gather and burn fake money as an offering to their ancestors. Sometimes they would burn images of clothing and cars and whatever they felt like their ancestors might need on the other side.
On my father’s birthday we wrote letters to him. After we read them aloud, we burned them. We fed our words to the fire with hope that the smoke would carry our voices beyond.
Copyright © 2010 Diane René Christian. All rights reserved.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Diane René Christian, author of An-Ya and Her Diary, is an award winning short story writer turned novelist. She was raised in Pennsylvania and spent her childhood years playing in the fields of Valley Forge Park. She now resides in the Pacific Northwest with her two daughters. Visit her at http://anyadiary.blogspot.com/