by Grace Bochain Luddy
This photo is called, “Remembering Dad.” I took it on Block Island, where I live, in February before my father died on April. It was very cold and the wind was blowing, blasting me with sand. It was on this walk that I gave up fighting for my father’s life. He went into a coma in March, and I flew down to Florida and got to the hospital at midnight. I was told that he wouldn’t live out the night. I walked into his room and said, “Dad, I’ve got pictures.”
He woke up. He said, “Whatcha got?”
He saw this picture and many others, including many of waves and deer. He also — and this is more to the point — lived a few more weeks, and he saw or spoke to all my brothers and sisters and also to his grandchildren. We took him out on a dock to see the ocean just days before he died.
I was, of course, zooming around, trying to “fix it.” He was in his chair and looking out the window. He said, “Gracie. Stop trying to entertain me. Look at the sky. It’s so blue.”
That has helped me a lot, to know at the end of his life, as he was edging over, the blue sky was good for my father. The thing itself, the blue sky — something so simple and fundamental about living on this particular planet — it was the only thing left for him when everything else was taken away. And that was enough. That and his courage, my whole family’s courage during that time, helped me afterward, and it still helps me now.
I keep thinking of my many friends who’ve had recent losses, of all of our losses, and the fact that death is a part of life. It seems everyone I know is touched by grief and that this heartache comes in many forms. There is grief like I have for my father. There is grief out of sequence and grief that leaves no place or no future, and grief that includes the destruction of love, of trust and hope and identity — grief that undermines history and dignity, even faith, faith in anything. I know that grief can be like waves or like fire or like a frozen lake, or like falling. I know that answers — and no answers — come to each of us in our own way and in our own time.
April is the seventh anniversary of my father’s death, and also the anniversary of the time we were all going through it. It was difficult — new parts of my dad’s body not working; new lowering of hopes and expectations; new exhaustions and new sufferings past anything we ever thought we could handle; and then past that. And we had to say yes to everything because he was going through it, and we had to say yes to him.
So he was dying and we were dying with him, and then he kept going and we came back. I learned I could function on two hours sleep and go into the ocean (in Florida), and that the ocean would take some of my exhaustion away. I learned that little things matter as much as big things. I learned how people made a difference, when everything was so raw and every moment so precious. How brief words and kindnesses still shine on me as greatness and as wisdom.
Grace Bochain Luddy is a writer and photographer living on Block Island, a small community about 13 miles off the southern coast of Rhode Island. This essay was adapted from Grace’s blog — aphotographersday.com — specifically for In Care of Dad.