Personal News: Remembering my Father

Nicole Melanson ~

Nicole Melanson's father in front of a tree

Last week, my father passed away from COVID-19 after the virus ran rampant through his nursing home. To say I’m devastated would be an understatement.

My relationship with my dad has always been complicated due to a brain injury he suffered when I was nine years old. I spent decades mourning everything that that one, life-changing event stole from all of us, but as an adult, I found comfort in the connection that remained, unconventional as it was. I also got a lot of mileage out of memories:

My father taught himself harmonica in the Navy and loved to play for me.

He was a whizz at Space Invaders, Donkey Kong, and Frogger.

He bought me my first cassette tapes: The Mamas & The Papas and Olivia Newton-John.

He gave me my first (and last!) taste of Dr. Pepper while we were watching Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan at the Cabot.

He used to take me to Salem Willows, Winter Island, and Lynch Park to see the rose garden blooming.

I remember banging pots and pans on his mother’s kitchen floor when I was a toddler.

I remember his elderly Irish aunts feeding me candies from a fancy glass dish in their parlor.

I remember his sister sending me books every Christmas and birthday.

When my father and my stepmother married, I was thrilled to be the flower girl in their wedding.

Nicole Melanson with her brother at their father's wedding

For as long as I can recall, I’ve compartmentalized my feelings in order to deal with them, so it’s jarring now to find my father’s death part of a global pandemic in which everyone on the planet has a stake. I’ve never felt like my family’s story fit the mainstream narrative before, and the mental fatigue of suddenly being tied to all those other stories is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.

There’s always been a political side to my father’s situation, but that political noise feels deafening now. While the rhetoric around disability has evolved since my childhood, the idea that some lives are worth more than others still pervades almost every discussion about public health and medical care. Grief is hard enough without having to listen to people debate the value of the person you’re grieving.

I am also struggling with the tyranny of distance. It feels wrong to be remembering my father’s life while surrounded by palm trees and withering frangipanis instead of oaks and maples and birches and pines. And the sea. I miss the sea more than anything else. I should be near the Atlantic Ocean right now. It feels like my blood is pulling against the tide.

Nicole Melanson and father at Salisbury Beach

A friend of mine says immigration is a trauma—words that resonate deeply with me this month. In times of adversity, being away from your home and unable to return is traumatic. Our childhood landscape, climate, language etc. provide a refuge that becomes impossible to replicate anywhere else. I long to be in my father’s space, surrounded by the things he knew and loved. I also wish I could be with my brother, who understands all of this better than anyone else in the world.

I’ll carry other touchstones from this time, but they feel too personal to share online. What I will say is I’ve been moved by unexpected kindnesses. The two weeks in which my father shuttled back and forth between nursing home and hospital were some of the loneliest of my life, compounded by travel restrictions and time zone differences. The people who checked in to ask how things were going and offer support sustained me more than they could ever imagine, and will always have a special place in my heart.

Take care, friends—not just of yourself and your loved ones, but of acquaintances. Even strangers. Don’t underestimate how far two minutes of your time can go. A quick “I’m here” might just be the thing that someone else remembers forever.

Stay well.

xo Nicole

Nicole Melanson and father at Stone Mountain

RIP John Andrew Melanson

Dec. 19th 1940 – May 12th 2020

27 thoughts on “Personal News: Remembering my Father

  1. Oh Nicole, I’m so sorry to read this post on the loss of your father. Its feel to me like a personal loss even though I don’t know you or your father in person but rather know you only through our words. I can only relate a little to the ‘tyranny of distance’ you speak of because my parents too are far away – though thankfully not continents and time zones. But I want to wish you love and comfort and strength, And pray that the hardship of the world will one day be over. Much love from Cape Town, xxxx

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Warm, loving and beautifully written Nicole. A wonderful tribute to your dad. Know that you are never far away when your heart is open and you let others in. You will again enjoy those special places and dad will walk with you.
    May there be much healing in your magical words and memories.
    All my love, Mom

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What a lovely post. So delicately thought through, and beautifully expressed. I’m really so sorry to hear of the loss of your Dad. xx Sending so much peace and strength your way. xx ☀️

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Beautiful words, Nicole—I love the memories of your dad that you shared. We must remember the value of every life and that, as a civilised society, we need protect the vulnerable or who are we as humans? Much love to you. 💕

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks for sharing your sad news of losing your father to Covid-19. I totally agree when you say: “Grief is hard enough without having to listen to people debate the value of the person you’re grieving.” May the happy memories of your time together buoy you up as you grieve his passing ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Nicole, I’m so very sorry for the loss of your father to the pandemic, and the extra pain being so far away must bring… My heart is with you and my love crosses oceans to surround you in this difficult time. I wish you love, strength and peace and wish I could hug you.
    All my love,
    Alexia

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi Nicole
    Beautiful words that can connect us from far and wide, that we can share your sadness regardless of the social distancing of COVIT. Hope all your boys are managing, possibly enjoying this time they have had home-schooling. Thinking of you at this very difficult time.
    Adrienne xx

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Hello Nicole – I came across your blog post in a sideways sort of way. I’m “supposed” to be editing my novel but one bright, shiny website led to another until I found myself facing your beautiful words. I am so sorry for your loss and how your loss is tied to this bigger event in our history. It is important for all of us to remember the waves of grief we experience during this epidemic are made from droplets of individual stories – of people, not numbers. The headline is about covid, but the loss is about a man. A father. I lost my father a few years back. Like so many father-daughter relationships, ours was complicated. I have been spinning in my own way since then – not quite able to fit the me I was in the world where he existed into this new world where his voice is not on the other side of the phone. You are now a few months out from your loss – and I am a number of years out from mine. From one fatherless daughter to another, I hope you know that grief has its own trajectory and timeline. You do not have to be OK for a long, long time. You may not feel the depths of your loss until covid is out of the headlines and the ability to intellectualize that loss as part of a greater whole is broken down to just your story and his. I wish you luck on your journey and hope, as you wrestle with the various demons a familial death can bring – guilt, longing, anger, sadness, painful compassion, a desperate need to go back and relive/resay/redo interactions between you two – that you get to the place of peaceful integration. We never get over our loss – we can only integrate that loss into a new definition of ourself. At least – that’s what I am trying to do. T

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tabatha, thank you so much for this beautiful message. I am sorry this experience is familiar to you on a personal level, and really appreciate you sharing your story. You have articulated everything so well and your words are very comforting. Thank you for taking the time to read and reach out, and all the very best to you as you continue on your own path. Be well. x

      Like

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