This is a post about life and death (which is to say: about life). I have lots of middle to report about, but no energy to do it, so this post is all about endings and beginnings. I’ve missed writing here. I can’t promise I’ll be back a lot over the next five weeks (before I go to committee), but I’ll do my best. And once my dissertation is out of my hands… well, this space will be a welcome reward.
So just to be contrary (and thus my father’s daughter), I’ll start with the ending. We lost my sweet dad, Jack Emmett, last week. He fell walking up a set of stairs and hit his head, but he was stubborn, said he felt fine, and refused to get seen. When he went to sleep that night, both hemispheres of his brain filled with blood and, though he tried to stand once, he never woke up. We got the call around 11am the next day and, still hopeful, J, Bram, my mom (who was here for the day), and I headed south. We learned the sad news that he wouldn’t make it on the drive down, but we got there many hours before he left, so there was time to say goodbye (at least to his body). Bram touched him. I rubbed his hands and feet with lavender oil. His forehead. His chest. I curled up in his hospice bed next to him and sang while my mom stood by, filling in when my voice faltered. Because B was with us and needed to go home, I left a few hours before my dad’s breathing finally slowed to nothing. I hate that I wasn’t there for his last breath, but I was right where my dad would have wanted me to be, curled up in bed with my wife and son.
I was very, very proud to be his daughter. I remember countless road trips singing together, heartfelt, of course, but totally off key. I remember all the plays we did together, all the musicals, when I was growing up. I remember that when he went to prison, he traded another inmate something to make me a wooden box for Christmas, and several pairs of earrings. He did his best. He was so charismatic that I’m not sure you could help but fall in love with him. And his love for humanity was undiscriminating and Whitmanesque, unlike anything I’ll ever see again. He just loved people.
Born in the Great Depression to two Irish immigrants, he was placed in an orphanage when his mom and her “colored” (so says the news article) friend robbed a well-off man to feed their children. My dad watched all of his siblings find placement before him (the older kids able to work, the babies…well, babies) before finally finding a family at the age of four. That’s a rougher start than most people get, and I feel a huge amount of love for the little kid in him who was desperate for love. I think I’ve spent a lot of my life trying to find ways of hugging that kid.
He started theology school after high school, and, had his life gone differently, he would have made a profoundly good minister. But he left college to enlist in the Marine Corps at the start of the Korean War. He attended boot camp at Parris Island in an experimental platoon meant to see if marines could be trained in one short month. Fifty men started that training cycle; only six finished it. Among those six was Jack Emmett. Ultimately, the program was scrapped for being inefficient, making my dad one of the only six people in U.S. history to have graduated from one-month Marine Corps boot camp. He even had to pretend not to have strep throat in the final week because if you missed even one day of training you were out. He was tough.
My dad was many, many things upon his return from the war: a bail bondsman, an entrepreneur, a suit-wearing brother to the Outlaw Bikers. His dreams were sometimes absurdly big, but for an orphan of the Great Depression to dream big was a miracle in itself.
I know I got my love of strangers from him. From flirting with waitresses to always having something funny to say to a passerby, he loved those little interactions, and to this day, I love them just as much. He would pull over without hesitation for people in accidents. I remember picking up a woman who’d been in a bike accident. I must have been seven or eight. My dad had me move quickly to the backseat, and the woman bled all over the seat I’d just been in, and I was scared. But my dad was calm, reassuring to both of us all the way to the hospital. He didn’t care about the blood. He dug families out of the ’78 blizzard. He wanted to help. My father lit up for people, strangers, anyone. If you needed something from him, he would do all he could to give it to you. He spent his life rescuing people who others deemed unworthy of rescue.
And he lived a full, full life. He slow danced with Gloria Estefan, and was friends with Muhammad Ali. He had me convinced for decades that we were Romanian Gypsy and he laughed and laughed when he confessed that we were (obviously) Irish instead. Oh the stories he could tell.
My dad was a stubborn, magnanimous man with a heart that could swallow up a whole room, and I loved him fiercely. I will do all I can to carry on his generosity, and to teach my children to carry it on (though I might encourage all of us to do so with a bit more regard for the law). ;) He was, in his unconventional way, as fine a man as I’ve ever met, and I owe so much of the woman I’ve become to his example of compassion, generosity, and profound acceptance.
His funeral is Thursday. It’s an overwhelming prospect. It’s been just over two months since we lost Saul. Bram woke up with a 105 degree fever last night, and now we’re both sick. Things are hard right now. This is hard. I trust that they won’t stay that way, but at night, the fact that I can’t call my dad, that I’ll never see him again, threatens to engulf me. This will be a long road.
So that’s the ending. But I promised you beginnings, so here are two of them, full of all the hope and joy and promise new life has to offer:
The first is that a wonderful family we know has a brand new son, their fourth (not just child, SON!). G and H welcomed O last week, and I cannot stop staring at his magical, full.of.wisdom face. Of course, I can’t show you that face. Or tell you any details without breaking their anonymity. So okay maybe this isn’t as thrilling to you, but here’s the deal: that little baby is a gift to the world, so get excited. He will do something lovely and just right with his life, and I hope I’m around to see it.
The second is my biggest, most joy-filled congratulations to the NEW MOMS over at Two Mommies and a Baby. After seven months of waiting to adopt (and years, of course, of planning), they brought home their daughter last month, and she is gorgeous. Really: go look at her! You’ll forgive me for teasing you with news of O! She is Chubby and happy and all the things strong, healthy, beautiful babies should be. I can’t wait to read more about their journey as a family of three, and I thank them for their courage and their much.much.needed adoption success story. Millie is exactly where she should be. Oh, and Jessica: all the fact that you’re “too prone to irrational worrying” means is that you’re already a great great mom.
So there it is, folks. The cycle of life as plainly as I know how to tell it. Love to you all this new March. My dad would want us out living in it. May spring bring light to us all.