Arsenal had a rough day yesterday. Once again, we played the majority of the match a player down after a red card to our BFG, Per Mertesacker. He didn’t touch Diego Costa, but no referee in the world wouldn’t have given the red after he made a tackle with so little a chance of getting the ball and such a great chance of hitting the player.
Arsene Wenger had to make a tough decision after that, removing our striker Olivier Giroud and replacing Mertesacker with Gabriel, who managed to get through this match without allowing Costa to get his goat.
Costa got a goal anyway, not too long after the red card incident, after a too-casual defensive approach on a cross.
Following that, Arsenal put in a respectable showing and had far more chances than a team down to 10 men should have, and were even cheered by the home fans at the end of the match. May we say that, for a guy who has no business being in front of the goal, Mathieu Flamini found himself there many times with the ball at his feet. He just couldn’t make his feet work. So many times, you wished you would look to the receiving end of a cross and see Giroud there to put it in. But instead, there he was in the seats, handsome and freshly showered, next to an equally freshly-showered and modestly-less handsome Per Mertesacker. A 0-1 loss.
You have to wonder if we shoot ourselves in the foot on purpose to relieve pressure. “Yes, we lost the race because we had a bullet in our foot, but look at the effort we put into finishing the race before the race volunteers took down the traffic barriers!”
Truthfully, although I organized my day to go to the early church service to be able to watch the whole match live, and emitted many groans and screeches during the 90+5 minutes, my heart wasn’t completely in it. It was a year ago today that my father passed away, and it was hard over the past week and a half not to be thinking back on the events of last year, when he checked into the hospital with abdominal pain. And especially hard to not think about the last few days that he was still with us, when he showed us what it means to die well, after living well.
When I say “die well” I don’t mean that it was a comfortable death. He was in significant pain, so much that there was no doubt we had to let him go. When the time had clearly come to stop fighting, he knew it was time and he accepted it. In reality, I think he had long been ready to stop and was just waiting for us to be at the same point. His only concern was how long it would take. I don’t know whether it was to make best use of the time left, or because he was anxious to be out of pain. Time became his great interest in the last days and hours. Many times he asked us, “What time is it?” That is a question I have wondered about so much in the last year. Why was he so interested in the time as he approached the end of his life?
Crying was not off limits and it was a very good thing. A man with four daughters and one son is used to tears, and in his presence, we used box after box of hospital-issue tissues. They were ridiculously tiny boxes and ridiculously tiny tissues. Either that or we are a particularly snotty bunch. It is probably most true that they were small and we were snotty. Very. At some point, one of us made a pilgrimage to the pharmacy for some serious tissues, appropriate for the occasion.
There were many moments of beauty as he said goodbye to the people he loved, and let them say goodbye to him. I remember him holding my mother’s hand and telling the pastor of his church “Somehow I got this woman to marry me,” full of gratefulness for the life they had together. I remember him hugging grandchildren and telling them how special they were to him. Introducing his daughter-in-law to a friend as his “fifth daughter.” Giving advice. Holding the hands of his friends and thanking them for their friendship. In his pain and weakness he knew just what to say so that we could say to him what we never would have known how to say.
I will never, ever forget how friends and family supported us and him during that time, how we never had to worry about a meal, how dishes just showed up at the house to be eaten, how family took shifts at the hospital so my father never had to be alone to navigate his illness. How they advocated for him and fought for him. How they sent flowers to his funeral, and donations to his favorite causes. The beautiful and moving poetry they wrote about him. How the newspaper wrote an editorial commemorating his community activism that clearly showed how they “got” him, understood his goals.
In my life I have been lucky enough to experience the birth of two children and be present when they drew their first breath. I feel just as lucky to have been with my father, holding his hand when he took his last, joining his God and people he loved who passed before him. It was no less a miracle.
But such a loss.
That sentence is where I planned to end my post, but there is something I want to add. When I woke up this morning on the anniversary of his death I felt strangely at peace in comparison to how I felt over the weekend.
I’m sure the feelings of loss will still be strong, but I feel ready to move into whatever is next in this process.