A Father’s Hand

By Andrea K. Hammer

Four hours after my father drew his last breath, my mother was still
holding his hand. We waited for his doctor to sign the death
certificate, so his body could be transported to the funeral parlor.
Side by side, hand in hand—as they had walked together for the last 50
years—my mom refused to leave his side.

I sat watching her try to keep him warm, staring at the well-manicured
nails that were so at odds with his flying tufts of hair. His jaw had
dropped open and finally seemed to let in the air that had been
escaping him in life. Tracing his face with my eyes, I memorized every
detail and wondered how I would go back into the world without seeing
the last link to my grandmother’s arched nose.

Hole in the World

A hole was left in the world without this spirited man, who went down
with his fists literally raised high, during private conversations only
he could hear at the end, ranting against the cancer that had consumed
his body and robbed his spirit for 8 years. When one of the tumors
pressed on his spine and made walking next to impossible, my dad—by
sheer willpower—dragged himself inch by inch to get to family
gatherings. A man who had always loved driving, he sacrificed his last
shred of pride when, at last, he surrendered himself to bed and
released his car keys.

I tried, in the last months, to sit by his bed and hold his
unresponsive hand, the one that felt so all encompassing as we walked
on the boardwalk during my childhood summers in Atlantic City. Back
then, he owned a tire business; after a week of blackened fingernails,
he took pains to spruce himself up for my mom. The smell of his English
Leather aftershave competed with the salt air as I looked up at my
6-foot, 2-inch hulk of a father.

Memories of Fathers

At a lunch with colleagues during the last months of his illness, the
conversation coincidentally turned to memories of fathers. The
80-year-old in our group talked freely about his sergeant-like father,
who died 20 years ago. “You all need to make peace with your fathers
before they go,” he said, hanging his head in the face of a
still-present ghost. My boss described his father’s dislike of the
first moustache he had ever grown. “’Shave that thing off, or don’t
come back to this dinner table,’” he said, mimicking his father’s stern
tone. And another staff member in our group, at that time, said we all
hear our father’s voices in our heads, still trying to please them.

So my fingers tap away on my dad’s laptop, the one possession of his
that I desperately wanted. When we first lifted the screen and tried to
start the unresponsive computer, my fiancé said, “Your dad’s hands were
here.” Now I listen to the clicking keyboard, taking comfort in the
rhythm.

Here, in this quiet space that I share alone with my dad, I still feel
connected to him and his strength—although unsettled as I piece him
back together through his files. When I first couldn’t get his computer
to work, my coworker said: “Surely there must be something of his that
would mean more to you.” But here his spirit still has shape in letters
to my brother about the brutal pain and constant cold he felt, in his
work files that showed a determination to keep working until it was
utterly impossible, and even in his last CAT scan report that states:
“Prognosis for recovery is bleak.” I sob thinking about how he carried
that information in his head and still managed to tell us an off-color
joke.

My father’s face comes to me in a dream 2 months after the birds fly
free from his grave. Gusts of wind swirled around those of us huddled
by his side that day, when, even then, he seemed to refuse to go down
to his resting place—near a busy traffic intersection, watching the
swirling patterns of cars that had always mesmerized him. In the dream,
I am kissing his cheek, and he tells me to believe in myself. So I race
back to his laptop at every free moment, trying to heal myself and
honor both of our spirits.

Everywhere and Nowhere

Many years later, my dad is still everywhere and nowhere. We are able
to think of him now, laughing heartily without constant arrows in our
hearts, wherever we go: in New Jersey, where he drove over the bridge
from Philadelphia, just to buy the cheaper gas; and at his favorite
restaurant, which serves a seven-layer cake that he could inhale before
turning to sharp bones and asking with disbelief, “What’s happened to
me?”

In the first years after his death, I was consumed by an unrelenting
gnawing. But now, many years later, I’m simply urged on by a cluster of
swooping birds—the safekeepers of my father’s soul—making formations
above my head and leading the way forward.

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About Andrea Hammer 224 Articles
Andrea K. Hammer, founder and director of Artsphoria International Magazine and Artsphoria: Arts, Business & Technology Center (https://www.artsphoria.biz), is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer. She has published articles in international publications. Through this expanded edition of Artsphoria, she invites fellow artists, writers, innovators and creative thinkers to join our conversation!`