An Ode to Toilet Paper

My father died on February 24.

He had been admitted to hospital with breathing problems on Monday 13. His girlfriend waited for news, and when he hadn’t phoned her on Tuesday, she contacted the hospital on Wednesday morning. They told her that he couldn’t call her back because he had been put in an artificial coma. Breathing had become so difficult that they had to put him on artificial respiration.

Being at 1300km from where my father lives, I passed the next few days on the telephone, explaining more than once to an ever changing hospital crew that no, I couldn’t just come over to get the news personally, and even if they didn’t want to divulge information by phone, they just had to, because I’m his daughter.

I finally decided to get on a plane to see him, in case it would be the last time. I just jetted from February 19 to 21 to Germany, spoke to doctors, the nursing staff… and my father. He wasn’t concious, I’m not very gifted for speaking to someone I might never see again, but I was there, holding his hand and talking about some random things I wanted to be meaningful.

When I got back, phoning and waiting resumed, until I got the message that he died on the 24th.

On the 24th, in the evening, I was playing cards with my husband and children. At one moment, I felt cold. But it was not the goosebumps cold. It was like something was sucking all the warmth from my bones, something was drawn from me. I went upstairs to get a long comfy indoor coat, whose zipper I closed like you close the zipper of one of those plastic bags for the deceased. It was the moment my father had died.

His death fell just on the beginning of winter holidays in France, so my husband took the children to the mountain and I returned to Germany to organise the funeral and get all the paperwork done.

I’m the only child, and my parents have divorced a long time ago, but they lived not far away from one another. I stayed at my mother’s, she helped me emptying the appartment, and organised a coffee and cake after the funeral.

My father had no connection with church, so he didn’t want a mass or someone speaking at his grave. I had him incinerated, and a few persons came to his funeral. My family, and some neighbours. He didn’t want anyone, but I considered that those close enough to us to ask personnally when the moment of his last journey had come, should be able to attend. As I did not want to let him go without any words, it was me who spoke at his grave. I can positively say that this was one of the most difficult moments of my life, but also one where there was the simple evidence that it had to be done. I owed him this last good-bye.

Emptying his appartment was very challenging. I felt as if I violated his privacy. Luckily, he was a well organised man, just with a tick to have many things in multiple versions. Tenth of pairs of scissors, forty pairs of shoes, eight umbrellas, fifteen belts, twenty vests…

Taking each of these things away, was like reaffirming with each gesture that he wouldn’t come back, he didn’t need it anymore, he wouldn’t drink from that glass, he wouldn’t read that book, he didn’t need this pillow any more. The more common the object was, the more the feeling was overwhelming. When I came to the bathroom to put away his brush, soaps and towels, I had to reach for the toilet paper, which was stocked high on a cupboard. He had put it there, tall enough to do it easily, and he hadn’t had the slightest idea that he would never again reach for it, such a daily gesture, such a private moment, such an unimportant one, now an impossible one. It’s these unimportant objects, trivial pieces of life, which made all the grief crush heavily on me. Because most of the time, our life is made of small unimportant moments, strung on our chain of life.

I spent a lot of time sitting on the ground, alone, thinking of my children’s laughter when my father made them pop balloons on his cactus collection, playing games with them and remembered the great meals my father’s girlfriend prepared for us. This appartment is where I grew up, too, from 2 to 13 I lived there. I don’t have any nostalgy about that time, it is as if after the divorce the appartment was stripped of its meaning of home for me.

As the weather turned round to accomodate my mood, I sat there, in an almost empty living room, a thunderstorm dooming outside, and I tried to feel my father’s presence in between all these memories. I did feel his death, I didn’t find him there with me. So I weeped for some time, and resumed my tasks.

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One Response to “An Ode to Toilet Paper”

  1. Tammy Says:

    Oh my – just wow. I loved reading this, it reminded me of my father’s passing. I too was far away and only able to visit twice before he passed, and was unable to attend his funeral. My step mom did send me a lot of his personal awards for being a trucker, and AARP senior citizen driving instructor.


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