Saturday October 30, 2021 marked the five (5) year date upon which my beloved daughter Morgan, drew her last breath. I was holding her hand that dark night. Her brother, my son, was in the room. And then at 11:31 p.m., the physician’s assistant gently whispered, “She’s gone.”
Until the end of my days, that dark, horrible night will remain a personal tragedy. What makes that tragedy sting on a deeper level is having to acknowledge the reality that the world has moved on. Morgan’s friends have moved on as surely they must. They have started their own families. To the eating disorder community, Morgan is merely a statistic and pretty much a forgotten statistic at that. However, to her daddy, she is the catalyst for my soul connecting with me.
In acknowledging that the world has moved on, different thoughts of life, the living and the manner in which we face life swirl through those “little gray cells” as the fictional, Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot was wont to say.
When an annual death day arrives, a parent knows that that day will certainly bring sadness as memories come flooding back. You wonder “what if?” What children would they have brought into the world? What joy and happiness would they have experienced? What greatness would have been within their grasp? Not surprisingly, you don’t think, “oh no, what if they would have turned out to be a serial axe murderer!?”
That day you walk a razor’s edge of emotion … the slightest nudge can send one falling into a chasm of despair. And yet, life, the endless possibilities that life seems to offer, keep finding ways to intervene, to keep one walking on that razor’s edge.
In the last week, my younger brother James told me he is flying to Tahiti on October 30 for a well-deserved vacation with his wife. He said he remembered it is Morgan’s commemoration day. I then told him that Morgan would love if you took her ashes you have, and spread them someplace beautiful in Tahiti or in that great ocean. I hear him choke up a bit and he then says, I was going to ask you if it was alright if I did just that. Five years have elapsed. It’s time for her to see more of the world, to become part of it in different places.
October 30 continues. Hanford, my son, has started his own Halloween tradition with his family. Along with his wife, Rebeca, their child, Riley and my other beautiful granddaughter, Kennedy, they put on Halloween movies (this year it was the Nightmare in Longhorn Football Land). They carve their own jack-o-lanterns. Morgan’s mom, Martha, was in attendance bringing Italian food and the pumpkins. The laughter, then the concentration as they carved intricate patterns, the inevitable mistakes, a bowl full of “pumpkin innards” ultimately resulted in masterpieces.
Life with the living. Laughter and love. Keeping painful thoughts of missing the one who is physically not there in a safer place. Yes, thinking how much Morgan would have loved … or hated, carving pumpkins. How can those thoughts of her not exist? After all, she is permanently in my heart. But, laughter and love kept sadness at bay for the time being. And yet, the day was not yet over, not by a long shot.
I am currently squatting in a beautiful house (thanks Patti!) in a non-gated, well-tended, small community that is seeing a turnover of its residents. From Blue Hairs and Non-Hairs like me to younger families with babies and small children. The joy and wonder of sweet, innocent children. On October 30, at 5:00 o’clock, a trick or treating parade was organized by the local HOA. Which brought back memories of childhood decades ago. And memories of Halloweens spent with my children.
Armed with a basket of candy (and yes, only the good ones, like Reese’s and peanut M&Ms and Snickers) we sat on Adirondack chairs in front of the house. With a cigar and bourbon in hand, we await the onslaught of urchin and munchkins. And surely they came.
From babies in carriages, to younglings barely able to walk, an army of Batmen, butterflies, spider men, costumes from all walks of a fantasy life approached. Eventually, I sat on the curb with the basket of candy, having them reach in to get their own share. Laughing as some tentatively reached in and took only one (“That’s ok … you really can have more than one!”) to others who reached in an pulled out handfuls at a time. Looking up and seeing the surprised and horrified look on their parents’ face brought such laughter. And in those beautiful children’s eyes, I saw the absolute best that life has to offer. A future filled with love and hope.
The children basking in the glow of free candy brought thoughts of past Halloweens with Morgan. Morgan’s eyes filled with wonder and laughter. But, before I have a chance to be consumed by a tsunami of pain, more children walk up and one says, “YAY, THE DRAGON IS OUT TODAY!”
We have about a 9 foot inflatable dragon I bought about 4 years ago. Every Halloween (and sometimes during the Christmas season, it has made its appearance). Its wings slowly flapping. Glowing red eyes. A stomach which looks to be on fire. And then the dear children looking at it with joy and yes, one even had fear.
One mom said, “we drive by your house every day and when the dragon is not inflated, I tell my daughter the dragon is taking a nap.” A number of adults and children commented on how much they love the dragon. Something so simple. Something which brought such joy to the younglings. Smiles. Laughter. Is life bringing a modicum of peace to an anguished soul?
Darkness starts to descend and night time approaches. I remember that dark night five years ago when frantic calls of “Code Blue” blared so loudly. A harbinger signaling that death was arriving. But, tonight?
We have some dear friends who live about 15 houses a way. He is a genius, mad scientist who is inventing AI which is going to enslave and/or kill all humankind. She is an outgoing event planner, full time mom and bon vivant. They take Halloween very seriously. This year, their family was dressed as the Addams Family and as you can see, their house was decorated full tilt. Saturday night, October 30, they were throwing a costume party. We were obliged to go.
I decide to dress in black, including the black hat and sunglasses. When asked, I will say I am channeling Johnny Cash, or Robert Oppenheimer (“I am become Death, the Destroyer of Worlds”) or Joe Black (from the movie). We show up early and hob nob a bit. And yet, I really just want to be left alone with my own thoughts and feelings. Unfortunately for me, the universe has other plans.
Our dear neighbors have two daughters, one of whom has incredible musical talent and can discern subtle spices and flavors in food at 14 years old. The other daughter is this precocious, out-going, bold 9 year old. This girl has no fear, is in your face and is already grabbing life by the lapels. We have a very nice connection because she is emotionally and mentally more mature than I am.
And so, any thought of being alone with dark thoughts and sadness rapidly go out the window. Especially since they are dog sitting a Scottish Terrier. So, the 9 year old and the dog, who are close friends now are embedded in my world. Go outside and stand next to the pool? I am found. Go to another part of the backyard? Uh, yeah … no. Found. Go inside into a separate room. Ha! This incredibly, sweet, innocent, beautiful child is not going to let me be alone with sadness. She doesn’t know that of course. I hope one day to be able to explain to her what a gift she was that night. But, certainly the day is not evolving as I thought it would … and feared.
But, I am a guy. Which means, I have not yet grasped what is happening around me. I think I can still control my destiny this day. I am the master of my domain. The King of the Castle. The Lord of the County. Uh …. No.
Home at last. I can be alone with my thoughts and feelings. Instead, I set up the new projector to watch a movie outside. Bring out the cigars and bourbon again! It’s drive in movie time! Patti is there of course.
The movie “42” comes up on my feed. The inspirational story of Jackie Robinson overcoming all odds. His strength. His courage. His facing adversity with resolve. And with grace. Having watched that, obstacles seem less formidable. And I am reminded of the power of “One.”
I then find Morgan’s Celebration/Funeral on YouTube. I find the aria, “O Mio Babbino Caro,” which was sung that day. I play it and allow the tears to come as Patti sits next to me. By now, it is 11:25 p.m. Six minutes to go. At last, time for me to be alone. NOW, I can mourn properly, dammit. Like I am supposed to!
I go into my home office and close the door. But, before I can even sit down at the desk, feelings, emotions, thoughts come… I have not been alone all day. I have been surrounded by love. By laughter. By sweet, innocent children. By people who care. By people who love. So much has strengthened and bolstered me all day. And I know that I am not alone. That I am no longer meant to observe 11:31 by myself. And so, I leave that “aloneness” behind. Perhaps, once and for all times.
I open the office door, find Patti of course, and we start to talk. I watch the clock as 11:31 approaches. It then … arrives. I certainly remember those words which froze my heart, “She’s gone.” I am hugged. But, those words, “She’s gone.”
It was not until the next day, as I am being a conduit for this posting, that I understand the words, “She’s gone,” do not stand alone. Nor do I. Now, the words which follow, “She’s gone,” become clear. They become a greater call to action.
The words which follow, “She’s gone,” are … “and what are you going to do about it?” What am I going to do about it?
A father filled with steely resolve. Whose soul has connected with him. Certainly, a flawed man. But, a daddy with a purpose. With decades of legal experience behind him. With the power of the court system at his command. Who has been pounded and beaten and forged by the hottest fire. And who knows he is not alone.
Resolved. Driven. Power and inspiration from a daughter taken far too soon. She’s gone. And now … what am I going to do about it?