Today is the forty-eighth anniversary of my father’s death. He died a little after nine o’clock that evening: April 11, 1967. I was nine years old. I had gone to bed a short time before. I was either still awake or was easily wakened when my mother began calling for my older brother. She was clearly distraught.
I ran down the hall to the dining room. My father was sitting in his usual spot, his head tipped forward onto his chest, his eyes closed. I knelt beside him and began crying out to him. I knew that he was dead.
He was fifty-nine years old. He had already suffered many heart attacks. He had been unable to work since 1963. In August 1966, he suffered a heart attack that was, we thought, his last. I recall riding with my brothers late into that August night. I watched the moon through the window of the car and thought, “Tomorrow morning my father will be dead.” And I didn’t know what it would feel like.
He survived that August night and lived a few more months, dying only on that April evening.
I don’t remember it, but I was apparently so distressed that the next day, April 12, a physician prescribed a medication to help me sleep. I recall napping on my bed that afternoon. I woke and lay for a time looking out the window at the trees in the fencerow across the dirt street we lived on. One of them, I thought, looked like a dinosaur: a Tyrannosaurus rex. I could hear the voices down the hall of our little house. And I remember thinking that, yes, my father had died, and he was still dead.
It is now forty-eight years later. I’m fifty-seven. Some days I am transported again into my childhood, into those days after my father’s death: wondering still what it means that he died.