February is a tough month for me. Daddy died in February, when I was only 22. My late companion died in February some years ago, drowned during vacation in Florida. So I’m always glad to see the back of this month, and spend some time remembering.
The first time I saw death close up was my grandfather’s death when I was a teenager. My father drove us up the hill from our farm to Pap’s white clapboard house to wait for the ambulance. Aunt Nina had heard Pap fall in the bathroom, and found him dead on the floor. He was almost 90 years old.
I saw the ambulance men bring Pap out on a stretcher. He was neatly dressed, as always, in grey pants, a crisply ironed shirt, and black laced-up boots. He had combed his thin, fine white hair, but he hadn’t shaved yet, so his chin had white bristles. His cold blue eyes were open wide, his nose jutting, his jaw slack. He looked surprised, nothing more. Daddy stood frozen as his father went by.
I have seen death again since then, my father in a coffin, my mother, Ron breathing out his life in a frantic knot of paramedics. I have seen old people fighting death like commandos, wrestling it down, falling to it. I see it advancing down the hall, lurking behind a hospital bed, swerving on a highway.
I used to think that, whenever you lost someone, eventually the gaping hole would be filled by another comfort of some kind. Now I think that we’re all like the moons of Jupiter. We’re pelted by meteorites. Sometimes you get a glancing blow. Sometimes you get a crater. Sometimes you crack into pieces, and you’re not a moon anymore. You keep orbiting around. The holes may not hurt as much, but they are still there. And we look for comfort.