My Father’s Files

Sorting Him Out, One Page at a Time

He was sitting at the glass-topped table in the study, holding a sandwich in both hands and staring at it like a relic he had just unearthed. Even in the final, wasting months of his life, my father did not miss meals. Yet what had once been full-throated gustatory pleasure was now a solemn observance: a nibbling ritual, conducted in slow motion. He furrowed his brow, concentrated, bit. Placed the sandwich back on the plate. Picked it back up and bit down. And again, slowly, and again. It took him thirty minutes to consume the few ounces of bread and turkey.

Mother sighed, and stared out the window at the tangle of bare wisteria vine.

“I hope you won’t only remember him this way,” she said.

But I knew we wouldn’t. Not like this. This was just the coda.

And yet now, many months later and his last meal long ago consumed, memories of that coda assume a kind of primacy, my father’s slow vanishing captured in deeply carved images. I spent many hours and days with him in the final year of his life; my memories of that time emerge now as stark intaglios, etchings developed in an acid bath of love and regret.

These aren’t images for the scrapbook or words for the liturgy, but they belong somewhere.

My father had asked if I would help him with his...

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About the Author


Dave Byrne is a freelance writer living in Alexandria, Virginia.