I ran today with my dad in my heart.
On the day he died, I went to the mortuary with my mom and sister. After we had filled out all the paperwork and answered all the questions, the mortician led us upstairs to the coffin room. Imagine a room you'd find in the upstairs of an old home, with that quiet, sequestered, old-wooden-beams feel, a high window and a squeaky floor and a dozen or more coffins on pedestals. Up another three stairs there was a smaller room, with a low ceiling. The coffins there were on lower frames, close to the ground; this made them feel shorter. I had a moment of terror there in that room: my heart pounded and my lungs gasped and I had to go back into the bigger room.
I don't want to be in a coffin. I don't want to be laid on my back, my body stiff, my hands in that doll-like pose. I don't want the lid to close on me, locking out light forever.
I didn't want my dad to go there either.
That moment of panic and heartbreak—for myself and for him—kept me company while I ran this morning. I thought of how, just before the casket was closed at the funeral, I slipped an arrowhead into Dad's pocket. This was to keep him company in the darkness. Under his burial clothes, his thigh was just like a stone. I had expected it to still have some softness, but it was granite.
I thought of a poem, The Truth the Dead Know, by Anne Sexton, which I have long loved but not really understood, especially this stanza:
They are more like stone than the sea would be if it stopped. I still can't tell you what it means, but I know what it means exactly. He is gone—but, yet, he's still there, in the dark, in his casket, the one they closed above the man with the arrowhead in his pocket. And I am still striding the world, running my paths, wearing out my skin in blisters. Breathing and thinking and moving. And he is like a stone there in the cold dark.
The truth the dead know: they teach a little bit of it to us by their very deadness. It is a knowledge there is no words for.