I made my poetry slam debut last week. Sponsored by one of our high school seniors, I smiled “maybe” when she invited me to slam. Though intrigued, I had written little poetry to date.
Two days before the event, I resurrected a stream-of-consciousness piece from my cell phone. I revised. Rehearsed. Then spoke from my heart.
Update Your Progress: February 8, 2017 at 6:24 AM
you started reading
The Memory Book
41 days ago
Update your progress
My dad died 34 days ago
is that what you're asking?
dictate words into cell phone
read "time flies" on WaPoUpdate your progress
Calls and emails unanswered
Members of Congress ignored
voter suppression et al
he became president
Update your progress
We marched in Helena
The woman beside me said,
"isn't it nice to be aroundthinkers?"Update your progress
I fell on my driveway
wrist to shoulder swallowed whole
got me through
Update your progress
I returned to the treadmill
to walk and to read
Muslim ban and Cabinet nominees
sabotaged my mind
Update your progress
my heart bleeds for our country
my father rests in peace
We lost our Papa in January. In the months that followed, I cocooned myself in his gold and brown sweatshirt, softness and scent comforts on cold winter nights. Colors of Capital High School Bruins, its frayed neck and sleeves evidence of the years Papa spent cheering for his grandchildren.
On his eighty-ninth birthday, Dad asked, “Do you think I’ll live to be a hundred?” His question earnest, we vowed to have a ninetieth birthday bash if he made it that long.
He didn’t. He died less than six weeks later, five days after breaking his hip. As we surrounded his hospital bed, I was reminded of a family gathering twelve years prior.
Please keep everyone healthy and safe had been my silent plea, Dad foremost in my mind as extended family bid Eric bon voyage. Not yet seventeen, he was headed to Argentina for a yearlong study abroad. I fought tears when Eric said goodbye to Papa, wondering if it would be the last time they would see each other.
My eighty-nine-year-old father died on January 5, five days after breaking his hip. He was scheduled for surgery January 3–delayed until his body cleared blood thinners—but worsening congestive heart failure declared itself early that morning. “I’ve had a good life,” Dad said, voice breaking after hearing that his body couldn’t tolerate surgery, that we’d keep him comfortable until his reunion with an army of family and friends in heaven.
My mom and I ordered his breakfast, our thoughts shifted from hoping he would make it through surgery without complications to anticipating the logistics of in-home hospice care. When the first of my siblings arrived, Dad told her, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”
Inducted into the Butte Sports Hall of Fame in 2009 for his teenaged boxing prowess, we didn’t know whether those were fighting words or a reference to heaven. Fighting words, it turned out, when he mentioned his caregiver soon after: “Maria’s going to have a job.”
The hospitalist switched him to oral morphine, which relieved Dad’s pain without the sedation of IV Dialudid. He had a glorious day: visiting with Mom and six of their eight children, talking and singing on the phone to grandchildren, and visiting with Maria.
A champion of veterans’ rights, he had planned to testify on their behalf twenty-three times at the Montana legislature this session. Now, instead of Mom being chauffeur and copilot as he navigated the Capitol halls with his walker, Dad dictated testimony from his hospital bed for her pinch-hitter appearance. He talked so fast, it took two of us to take notes.
“Madam Chair and all members of the State Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee:
For the record, my name is Catherine Antonietti, wife of Dan Antonietti, who is in the hospital and unable to attend this legislative session. He is a member of Post 1448 in Butte, Montana, which is a mile high and a mile deep and all the people are on the level.”
He grinned, then continued in his own words.
“I was the Legislative Chairman of the Veterans of Foreign Wars at the state and national levels. I voted yes for all legislative bills for the last sixteen years and I continue to cast my vote for every veteran’s bill held in this legislature. I’m glad to see you all back. Thank you, Madam Chair. You’ve all been a big help and I am proud of all of you.”
I fought back tears at his tender words, thinking how proud I was of him. Laughter followed when he said he wanted a beer, then asked for ice cream instead. We told him he could have both. “Just ice cream,” he said. “The kind I like.”
Two sisters went on a grocery run, returning with a half-gallon of ‘Mocha Me Hoppy’ and beer—just in case. Dad had three servings of ice cream that afternoon and evening. He had a couple of bites the next morning, which turned out to be his final meal. He began a steady decline, transitioning from oral morphine to a continuous IV infusion by the time the hospice nurse and social worker arrived for a family consult the following morning.
They asked if we wanted to go to a conference room. Dad hadn’t talked or opened his eyes since the previous evening, but they reminded us hearing was the last to go. We said we wanted to stay.
The nurse listened to his heart and lungs, then said it might only be hours before he passed. She talked about end-of-life care and offered condolences. The social worker did too, lingering to take contact information for bereavement follow-up—offering thirteen months for any or all.
She suggested one-on-one goodbyes with Dad and, after she left, we exited the room so Mom could go first. All eight of us and one brother-in-law followed. Dad’s brow wrinkled in concentration. He didn’t open his eyes, but he moaned and moved his lips. I felt his words in my heart. He died peacefully eleven hours later.
As we reconvened the following morning to discuss funeral plans, Vice President Biden and Congress met to formally count electoral votes. That morning I read factual news, not fake, about fifty-plus ineligible Republican electors—ineligible because they didn’t live in their Congressional Districts, or because as elected officials, they were barred from being “dual office-holders.”
I felt joyful driving to the mortuary. I imagined Dad and his fellow warriors working the Democratic Caucuses from above, particularly Senator Tester who had known and respected him for his veterans’ advocacy. I sang en route:
Papa Dan, you are the man, you’re up in heaven to take a stand to help change the history of our country. The country you loved and fought hard for, Donald Trump will be no more president-elect of this, our great country. Hallelujah, Hallelujah. Hallelujah, Hallelujah.
I knew my chorus of angels might be hypothetical, but I believed the Democrats would fight for justice. Constituents had urged objections for weeks. President Obama had imposed Russian sanctions. Fifty ineligible electors tipped the scale.
I checked my phone when we broke to look at caskets, certain that Colin Powell’s three electoral votes would multiply and he would be elected President. Premature I knew, because objections, debates, and subsequent votes would take time, but I checked again before we segued to our meeting at the cathedral.
Dad emboldened me with the motto: “You can’t win if you don’t try.” Numbed by the Senate’s inertia, I didn’t cry until driving one hundred twenty miles the next day to pack for his funeral. Angry tears spilled down my cheeks. I cursed Democratic senators and told them about my dad.
He was a fighter. Not a quitter. His dad died when he was ten. Butte-tough, he was a fourteen-year-old featherweight champion. He would have excelled at other sports, too, but he had to work to help support his family.
He was a WW II Veteran. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1945, but was honorably discharged after breaking his back in a car accident. Determined to serve his country, he enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1946 and served in the post-war occupation in Japan.
He was a Blackfeet Nation Indian Chief. Honored for his role in securing programs and funding for the Blackfeet people, he was adopted into the tribe in 1972 and given the name A-pi-na-ko Si–pis-to: “Morning Owl.”
He liked Bernie Sanders. Days before he died, he said to me, “I wanted to vote for Bernie but you said that would be a vote for Trump so I voted for Hillary.” He was heartsick that Hillary won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College.
He loved his country, and was proud of his legacy. Seventeen grandchildren. Five great-grandchildren. He wanted to make their world a better place.
But not one of you Senators put up a fight.
That morning, I talked with a lifelong friend. She said one good thing about Dad’s death was that he would not have to see Trump get inaugurated. We shared our hope that her eighty-six-year-old dad wouldn’t either. After nine months of hospice care, he died peacefully four days later.
On January 21, she, her daughter, and I marched in the Women’s March on Montana, carrying our special angels in our hearts. We toasted them afterward with my mom and sister—reveling in memories of two proud Americans and their lives well lived.
Weeks since we said goodbye to my dad, I miss him. I am grateful, too. Grateful that during his graveside military honors when Mom was presented a medal and the words, “On behalf of the President of the United States . . . ,” Barack Obama was President. I am grateful Dad is not here to watch Trump unravel the country he loved, the country he fought for. Most of all, I am grateful he is pain free and resting in peace. Continue reading “I grieve my father. I grieve his beloved country more.” »
My first visit to a mortuary was when I was eleven years old. My best friend Re-Re and I detoured to Duggan Dolan Mortuary on our way home from school one afternoon. Our former classmate, Judy Z., had passed away, and we wanted to say goodbye.
Our parents hadn’t wanted us to go—had forbidden us, if my memory serves me correctly—so it was a clandestine mission as we turned left instead of continuing down Washington Street after leaving school. We were a stealthy pair in our Catholic school uniforms, swallowing our guilt when we passed our church en route to Duggan Dolan.
As we ascended the mortuary stairs, the door opened inward. Unable to see who had watched our arrival from behind the curtained glass, we exchanged glances. Our resolve was firm—we were not going to turn and run. We wanted to say goodbye. We entered the foyer, where a solemn, dark-suited man greeted us from behind the door. “You’re here to see Judy?” he asked.
We nodded, too afraid to speak.
“She’s straight ahead.”
We gingerly made our way through the foyer and to the front of the room. It was empty, except for Judy. Re-Re and I knelt on the adjoining kneeler and surveyed our friend. She looked peaceful and warm, cocooned in white satin. Wearing a pastel chiffon dress, a rosy blush on her cheeks and lips, she was beautiful. Gone were any signs of asthma—the disease that had ravaged her body, causing so many absences that Judy had become our sisters’ classmate as she repeated third grade. Re-Re and I offered silent prayers, then breathed our goodbyes.
We managed to retreat to the foyer, sign the guest book, pass the dark-suited man, and hurry out the door before bursting into tears. We detoured again, backtracking toward school and its neighboring convent. “None of the boys even came to say goodbye,” we cried to Sister Agnes Therese.
Her reply soothing, we left feeling somewhat consoled. A block later, though, we took refuge in the alley of the abandoned hospital across the street from my home. “We’ll probably never see her again,” I said, sobs choking my words.
Re-Re agreed. Through our tears, we speculated that our defiance and previous acts of wickedness might route us to hell, rather than to heaven where we were certain Judy resided.
I don’t remember my parents’ reaction when they learned that I had gone to see Judy, but I was reminded of my introduction to death during Missoula’s recent Festival of the Dead Parade. Old and young gathered, some costumed and painted, others not, to honor and remember those who have passed, and to celebrate life.
Thank you, Bev Glueckert and Mike DeMeng, for your vision twenty-one years ago. Thank you, Missoula, for continuing to celebrate life and death each November.