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When This is Over
By Karen Rizzo

There's a photo of my father circa 1985. He's seated at a table next to me at CBGBs, a dark, dank rock club on New York's Lower East Side. He's smiling broadly, in a beige sports jacket, powder-blue pants, and Ray Bans, watching my brother play in his band. Dad liked to be the first to the stage after these gigs to shake the boys' hands, yelling, "Great show!" over the din.

Dad taps me on the shoulder. "Sorry," he says. "You were thinking. Are you alright?

"I'm okay, Dad."

He holds up a coffee mug with a photo of my brother and his wife on it. "Where'd I get this?"

It is late January. "You got it for Christmas."

Dad looks stricken. "Christmas?! I don't remember Christmas. What the hell is going on?"

As I help him to his chair in the sun he says, "Maybe I should go home to the guando garudas. They would know who I am." For an instant I think he's being slyly, intentionally absurd, like when my brother and I were kids and he would talk to a waitress in a made-up language just to crack us up. Is he making fun of the fact that he can't remember? A million years ago I would have laughed at the guando garudas, instead, I swallow hard.

Dad is at the kitchen table, his sunglasses on, holding a small photo album when Jim and I come in. His head drops. "How did I become a midget instead of a man? When?" Then my father cries, behind his Ray Bans, cries for the first time I have ever seen him do so. I lean down and hug him and Jim tells him how glad he is to have him here with us.

"Is…there a chance it will go the other way?" Dad says, with great clarity.

"You mean you'll get better?"

"Yes," he whispers.


Dad is unable to speak and barely able to stand. I press my forehead to his. "I know you're in there." He nods imperceptibly. He hears me.

Later, Cyn arrives to take his vitals. "How do you do it?" I ask her. "All your patients die."

She laughs. "Hell, anyone can deliver a baby. Been there, done that." She takes a deep breath. "But to give a person a good death, to help them with their final wishes… that's something. This is something."

Dad has fallen… no, leaned into a coma. One minute sitting on his own next to me, the next minute leaning into my shoulder, into his coma. I propped him against a cushion and stood. Then Cyn and I picked him up, and lay him in bed, his being caught in his petrified body, waiting for release, for the vessel to shut down and the portals to open. So tough my father, looking and acting years younger until the end, hanging on so tightly. He believed in God, and although I did find some ancient, mildewed Bible amongst his belongings, I never knew him to have set foot in church. My mother was Jewish and they were married by a Justice of the Peace. Hospice sent chaplains in the beginning, but Dad danced around their inquiries into his faith, his simple and very private faith. He believed in the here and now, in what he could touch and feel and do, and he believed in those he loved.

"Everything's okay. I'll be back in a couple hours." I say into Dad's ear, although he doesn't even seem alive. Cyn told me he might be waiting for me to leave to die, so I take Drake to karate after all.

"When is Poppa gonna die?" Drake asks in the car.


"What time?"

"I don't know."

"When he dies, can I take him to school for share day?"

"I don't think so. I'm pretty sure there's a rule against bringing dead people to school."

"I'll ask, Mom, just in case."


"Mom, why do people bury dead people in the ground? That's a dumb idea."

"That's just their choice, honey. It's not what we're gonna do. We're going to burn Poppa's body. Because, remember, Poppa's spirit--"

"I know," Drake interrupts. "Poppa's spirit won't be in his body. It's gonna fly really high away. Poppa'll be like Superman in the sky. Maybe he'll meet your mom."

"Poppa sky." August offers and makes the sound of an airplane, hands whooshing madly in circles.

On my morning walk I think of my father's walk, his brisk, torso straight and still, chest open, arms led by wrists gracefully snapping back and forth walk. When Jim and I would walk the beach with my father, Jim would invariably say "Tony, what's your hurry?"

"You stop, it's all over," he'd say.

I've never thought of Dad's walk so precisely until now. Is that what happens, our parents actually become more a part of us after they die? Or is it that we never stop and examine the small idiosyncratic gestures that made up their lives until those lives are over?

I'm certainly more my mother now then when she was alive. I imagine that I'll be more my father as well. My mother used to say, "The first hundred years are always the hardest," and I'd invariably roll my eyes. Recently I found the occasion to say it to my son. Maybe next time we're all out to dinner, I'll speak to the waitress in a made-up language just to crack the kids up…and to remember.

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