My dad, Eckart Sellinger, enjoying a pizza and soda in the backyard of his home in Port Angeles. (Zorina Barker/for Peninsula Daily News)

My dad, Eckart Sellinger, enjoying a pizza and soda in the backyard of his home in Port Angeles. (Zorina Barker/for Peninsula Daily News)

WEST END NEIGHBOR: No punchline to mask sadness, grief

THE CALL FROM Highland Court in Port Angeles telling me my dad had died felt surreal.

It was July 28 and all week, we had been hoping the weather would hold so we could have some friends out to play in the portion of the Sol Duc River behind our house.

The sun stayed strong and warm. It turned out to be a great day of swimming, kayaking, eating and enjoying time with really good friends. Some of our friends even made it out all the way from Sequim, Quilcene and Shelton.

When friends make the trek out from Sequim, it feels like some kind of victory when they actually arrive. They usually share a sentence that begins, “I don’t remember how long it has been since I came past Lake Crescent” so apparently the victorious feeling is mutual.

The sun had set and the no-seeums had gone away.

My daughter and her two Quilcene friends were preparing to spend the night in our tent at the river bank.

I was just saying goodbye to the last of our friends that Sunday night when my phone rang.

Seeing Highland Court pop up in my caller ID was not unusual as caring for my dad wasn’t an easy job. I’d have loved to have him live with us, but our tiny house and uneven ground would not work for his frailty.

Then, when a second, persistent call from the memory care facility came right away I knew something was different. The familiar voice told me to brace myself and in a gentle tone, the caregiver delivered the difficult message.

Having heard, but not at all processed, the news that my dad had died, I walked back into the house and woke up my husband to tell him. He was bewildered but very kind even though half asleep.

I left the bedroom and found my teenage son and daughter were in the kitchen. She was grabbing a few last-minute items for her overnight at the river. He was rummaging as usual.

There is a joke my kids tell that has a punchline “well, your mom was up on the roof” as the means of one character in the joke telling the other character his mom died.

Now, I have never had a very gentle touch when delivering hard news. So I thought I’d try to make a softer delivery this time and I started by telling my kids that Grandpa was up on the roof.

My daughter caught it right away. Maybe it was the cold water of the river or too much soda, but my son asked, “What was Grandpa doing on the roof?”

Seriously.

I’m sure I must have had a stupefied look, because it was my daughter who set him straight; just like I usually do, crisp, blunt.

Strangely, there were no tears at that time. A big hug for the three of us and my husband came down the hallway, dressed and ready to head into Port Angeles with me to see my dad one last time before his body was moved.

At that point, it was time to call my dad’s wife of nearly 55 years, my mom.

She was still in the San Francisco Bay area, finishing up selling the family house so she could move to Port Angeles. I balked at making this call but also knew it should come from me.

There was no punchline to ease into this pool of sadness and grief.

Hearing her mournful wail will stay with me forever.

We were so close to living in the same county as a family which hasn’t happened in 30 years. Mom’s move-in date for her house in Port Angeles is just a week away.

So close.

As I write this, I am in California. My mom and I are still working out the plan for her move, but now I don’t have to worry about my dad back in Washington.

_________

Zorina Barker has lived on the West End for most of her life. She is married to a Forks native who works in the timber industry. Both of her kids have been home-schooled in the wilds of the Sol Duc Valley. She can be reached at 360-461-7928 or [email protected]

West End Neighbor appears in the PDN every other Tuesday.

Her next column will be Aug. 20.

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