A Final Word

Scan 1Today, November 10, 2014, would have been my dad’s 74th birthday. His obituary is in today’s Missoulian. It links back to a larger version that I placed on a page here on my site, where it will stay as long as I have this website (who knew obituaries were so damn expensive to run in the newspaper?!).

My dad would have rolled his eyes if I kept at writing these things, but I’d like to make a couple final points. Whenever someone dies, particularly in a tragedy, we are reminded to take the time to say and do the things we always mean to but never get around to with those closest to us. Now I’m not saying my dad’s death was a tragedy, certainly not in the sense that half a family being killed in a car wreck is for those who survive. His illnesses were tragic, but that’s part of life too. Some of us, whether from genetics, shitty treatment of ourselves, bad habits, or just bad fucking luck get sick. We all live hopefully long, happy lives, and we die. It was his time. I’m at peace with that. In the end I think he was ready, even if as recently as last spring he told me he wasn’t ready yet. You know how it is, when spring comes, and summer blooms behind it, we all feel invincible again, don’t we?

Still, close as I feel I was with him, I have regrets. For example, I remember our last conversation on the phone, maybe a week or less before he died. We talked about me coming up to split some firewood for them; there are some large pieces needing split there now, and he was talking about getting a final load for the year of larger pieces that would also require splitting. Cutting up firewood is one of my favorite things to do, yet we agreed that it would make the most sense to just wait and split both old and new at the same time. Perhaps that was the most efficient approach, but it didn’t take into account the chance that I may never see him again. As we rung off, I told him I would see him soon, and he said he hoped so. And now I won’t.

That’s the hardest, weirdest part about it all, adjusting to the fact that I won’t ever see him again. That, if things go well with my own health and longevity and avoidance of accidents, I am looking down a road of more adult years left without him than I actually got to spend with him in the first place. That does feel tragic to me, and wasteful, and I wish I’d done better.

I was up at the folks’ place yesterday, visiting my mom (who is doing well), and picking up some stuff she had set aside for me. It was pouring rain, a precursor to a night that featured the season’s first snow. There is a black plastic lawn chair in front of Dad’s shop. He would often sit there as I dragged stuff for him from the old garage to the new shop, or while I tried to make something work on the tractor under the withering onslaught of his impatient instructions. Or even where he’d sit while we did nothing but shoot the shit. Seeing it there yesterday, empty, through sheets of rain from inside my car, was a powerful image. The kind of image that in a movie would seem overripe with purpose, and kind of heavy-handed in trying to convey an emotion (the camera focuses on the empty chair, then pans away, the music swelling as the screen fades to black….). He was there, and now he isn’t.

But no more feeling maudlin; we all move forward as we must every day. I would just urge folks, as people always do, to take care of one another, be thoughtful, and to always be kind to one another.


Author: Chris

Chris La Tray is a writer, a walker, and a photographer. He is an enrolled member of the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians and lives in Missoula, MT.

3 thoughts on “A Final Word”

  1. This post and both obituaries are really well done, Chris. Makes me wish I knew your dad, other than through you, I know I would have liked him. An animal-loving curmudgeon is right up my alley. We ALWAYS wish we had done more and think we didn’t do enough. That’s the price we pay for being people that care. But the downside of being mindful of such things is that it’s never enough. That being said, I have no doubt that your father doesn’t find you lacking.

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