Joani Reese’s “The Skull Beneath the Skin”

Father’s Day sucks for me these days. I get it twice; Sweden and the US have it on different days. I think the American one is worse. It proliferates until it’s inescapable.

My dad is dead. Even two years on and counting, it’s still hard as fuck to really think about. When the reality pokes its ugly head up, and it does, I change the channel. Living on another continent, talking to my family infrequently with a year or more between visits, I can, most of the time, pretend like it’s just, you know, been a while since we talked.

But Father’s day, all the people talking about their dads, renders it unavoidable. I considered just shutting the internet off, calling it a day. Hiding. But everything is needles under my skin these days. What’s one more sharp thing?

I knew from the title, “The Skull Beneath the Skin” and the opening line, My father always loved to dance, that I didn’t want to read Joani’s story today. Probably not ever. Even the title reminded me of the last time I saw my dad, his skin translucent and shrunken to the contours of his skull. I tried not to look at Joani’s story. The elephant in the room.

Finally, I said: “Just fucking read it, Frankie. Get it over with.”

There is no happy ending. It’s exactly what I expected. The experience of watching someone you love slowly unbecome, losing them as they lose themselves, piece by piece. My dad died of cancer, Joani’s dad died of Alzheimer’s, yet the experience is much the same. The hospitals. The nursing homes. The confusion and exhaustion and emotional numbness, the submission to dispassionate authority. Joani’s story brought back the white sick feeling, the teary-eyed anger, of the helplessness I felt then.

It’s not something we talk about. Losing people like that. The slow but relentless decline. The hope & the gradual realization that this only ends one way. The fucked up feelings that linger afterward. The things I wish I’d done for my dad then and the choices that turned out to be mistakes and haunt me now, that will always haunt me.

And, in a fucked up way, it made me feel a little better to know Joani’s hurting that way with me.

Read “The Skull Beneath the Skin” by Joani Reese