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Responses to Naomi Rose's Challenge to Write Long(er) Sentences
Challenge to Write Long Entries : Response by Amy Lloyd

Challenge to Write Long: Response by Amy Lloyd

North Hollywood, California / USA

Unexpected Healing – A memoir

"If anyone strikes my heart, it does not break,
but it bursts
and the flame coming out of it
becomes a torch on my path."
— Hazrat Inayat Kahn

Naomi Rose comments:
Amy's piece is not, technically, lengthy sentences. But I was so moved by what she wrote that I created a category for her on the spot. As I wrote her, in notifying her of winning: "Your evocation of your experience with your father's dying was so extremely beautifully, so honestly written that I feel moved to award you a prize even though the sentences were not actually very lengthy. Originally I came up with this to, in part, slow down the breathing in the act of writing: a heart's pace that goes where it goes. Your sentences, precise and well-honed, were more clipped than that. But the feeling brought about by the concreteness, clarity, and emotional honesty of your writing is so deep and moving and true that I feel the desire to make up a special category for you. So let us call it 'deep writing in not-so-long sentences.' So what if it doesn't fit the container I came up with. What it brings forth is worth everything."

I had arrived at the house that Tuesday evening, the day he died. When my mother's call reached me, the panic only mildly tempered in her voice, all she said was, "It's really bad." A nurse was there, holding a stethoscope to his heart, as were the two loving Filipino caregivers, Arnell and Oscar. Over the last few months they had worked and slept there 24 hours and had become part of the family. My mother managed to contact the priest in time to deliver the last rites. I stood by the end of his bed, head bowed, reciting the prayers with the rest of them. My dad lay there, cross-eyed and still from the morphine. He was uncharacteristically quiet.

It startles me that I actually watched him take his last breath. Fitting I suppose because he watched me take my first. He made me and now I would carry his DNA to the end of my life, a strange sort of passing of the baton. I have my father's feet: Knobby and narrow, and not especially pretty. These past several months I spent many hours massaging his feet, he liked that, and I had noticed the similarity. When they carried his body out a few hours later and his feet poked through the end of the bag, I was reminded of this again. The odd things that made me feel a part of him, here was another to add to the absurdity of death. And dying. How it all began.

My father and I were never friends. Growing up, he made fun of my looks (my Irish-Welsh genetics had proffered me a pointy chin and square masculine jaw), chided me for my spotty intelligence, and generally instilled intimidation. I regarded him suspiciously and often fearfully. His unpredictable nature was both bombastic and critical, snapping into hilarious and sweet on the turn of a dime. His illness had been with him twenty-two years, but the real end, the sharp decline, was in the last two. It was during that time when our relationship, mercifully and surprisingly, improved.

When someone is very sick, their loved ones actually get sick, too. Our sickness is one of worry, concern, and the whittling away of our energy. Inexplicably, we also carry a surplus of optimism. One has to be optimistic. When I got my dad to walk around the pool with his cane, swearing and complaining the entire five feet, I felt like the head cheerleader at the home game.

Sometimes the triumphs were smaller, like getting him to eat half a sandwich. He loved bacon on a well-toasted English muffin. And still other times the best I could rally a cheer for was him sleeping through the night without keeping my mother up every hour. Often I didn't even know what I was rooting for: wellness, the distraction from illness, the appearance of health or balance or hope or just an ordinary day where nothing, no crisis at all happened. Dying of cancer is very active, very much a show and it takes everyone with it.

Here's what I learned: Watching someone die slowly is impossible, horrendous, and insurmountable. But you do it anyway. I can't tell you when exactly, but the role of cheerleader morphed into the role of solider. Now I had been recruited for this tour of duty.

My mother and I took turns answering the baby monitor. I had purchase one as a solution to our many worries about not hearing him from other rooms. We took turns dashing up the stairs when we heard his call: straighten the bed sheets, get more protein drink, and help him to the bathroom. We were soldiers in the war, hyper alert for anything and we were not surprised when warfare came. Vomiting, mood swings, rage, and despair. We all infected. "When am I going to get over this thing?" my child-like father would ask. The only answer was the one never replied. And what other battles was I fighting? What were our weapons? You know already the enemy is winning, that there isn't going to be a happy ending, so the battle is for capturing every possible second left. And to be acutely present to it, pressing into the pages of your memory because both time and the disease are closing in.

Like a war zone, my parent's house descended into chaos. Every possible surface was filled with mountains of medicine bottles, scraps of paper, and half-eaten bowls of food. Upon entering the kitchen in search for scissors and discovering my mom popping open another bottle of wine, nearly toppling the cat off the table as she poured, I made her promise we would never slide into the likes of "Grey Gardens." This made her laugh. It was good to make her laugh. I made a point to do that when I could. Laughter was a tricky tool in my family. Funny, but often duplicitous, especially to my dad who built a career on jokes.

What comes with a tidal wave personality like his was a well-equipped vocabulary for killing anything in its path and his viciousness took no prisoners. My dad craved gobs of attention, with appetites both extravagant and massive. A daughter of strength and moderation was no match for him and our interactions were frictional. We never really liked each other.

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