Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Happy Independence, Dad

Dear Dad,

I know you read my blog, so here goes. It's been 4 months since you "shuffled off this mortal coil" (as you liked to characterize it), and I've got to tell you, it seems harder now than it did the day you died. Back then we all had the benefit of heartbreak brushed in two coats of semi-gloss numbness. Back then the excruciating reality of what life without you would be like was too enormous to comprehend and therefore almost meaningless (much like someone telling you you'll win "a gajillion dollars;" it's too broad and large to wrap your arms around in any tangible way). I definitely knew it would be terrible, but I was so focused on the disbelief that you could be fine, if not super-healthy, at noon but be gone by 7pm. There was too much shock to be able to project my own life forward four months, much less my life without you in it.

It is only now as the new routine without you becomes just that: a routine, that I am able to truly feel your loss. It is only now as I am actively living a life without you, that I feel the searing...pain? no, agony? no--emptiness where your eccentric, funny, frequently-annoying but always-devoted wee man presence used to be. I think about you a lot, Dad, mostly when I least expect to. I was completely fine on Father's Day. I even wondered for a while whether the whole world was turning English because everyone was asking me, "So how are you TODAY?" I was answering, "I'm fine TODAY, thank you" but couldn't figure out the emphasis on the last word. Until late in the afternoon when I was filling up the little paddling pool for The Bambina in the back yard. She jumped in and started splashing around while I was still filling it with the hose, laughing the laugh that only children can produce, full of wonder and sheer unadulterated joy at their present great good fortune. I instantly remembered all the times you and Mom had done that for us. We all loved that little green pool, and my heart just ached for it to be 1976 so I could grab one last moment of being your baby girl in the water before returning to the reality of being the grown-up with my own baby girl in the water. I missed you so acutely in the moment, wishing that you could be here to share in another generation's joy in the pool, wishing that your granddaughter could have you here and therefore forever in her memory when she someday fills the pool for her own child.

When the tears dry, I know that you heard her laughter regardless and that you were there with me as the water filled the pool. I also know that you'd take a dim view of crying into children's pools, seeing it as somehow a waste of energy that ought to be focused on making sure your grandchild is having a raucous good time. I know it and yet it doesn't make it any easier to carry out your wishes.

I also know that I'm not the first nor the last person to grieve a father out of existence, so I work hard to remember Elie Wiesel's admonition that "one should never feel that one's tragedy is exclusively one's own" because others have felt the same anguish. He is, of course, right. But, Dad, I'm the only Me who ever lost You. And no amount of philosophizing can make it feel better than the miserably real and day-to-day heartache that it is.

So all I can do is attempt to use the heartache to create something good. In months and years to come I will be better able to understand what that "something good" should be. For now, all I can do with it is try to be a more sensitive and understanding person to others dealing with grief of any kind. I no longer ask, "how are you?" of a bereaved person, knowing that there is no quickie, honest answer to be given in public. I simply say, "You're on my mind all the time, so let me know if I can do anything for you." Sometimes I even just go ahead and do something for the person knowing that they probably won't actually ask for help. I no longer always inquire about their feelings or grief status, preferring instead to read their faces, assess the moment, and determine if now is the time when the person is able to or desirous of talking about it. One of the best examples is my neighbor Sara who had previously brought a plant to my house after your passing. I saw her a few days after your memorial service and she didn't mention you at all, to my unbelievable relief. I think she saw from my face and in my eyes that I couldn't bear the question, that if I opened my mouth to say, "I'm fine; thanks for the plant" that I'd more than likely crumple in a heap in my front yard, which you (and she) know is not my style. So even though she said nothing, I felt so supported by her, simply for letting me have my private grief without feeling a social obligation to make me talk about it. I decided in the moments that followed to be more like Sara, to think less about myself (I've gotta say something!) and more about the other person (she's gonna lose it on a city street if I even approach the topic). I know that people care about me, I know they are thinking of me, and I know they haven't forgotten that it's only been 4 months since you've been gone.

So for now I'm going to try to be that person for my other friends who have lost someone. I'm also going to try to think less about what I've lost, and more about what you've gained. You are now in that great Scottish Tropical Paradise in the Sky where you have appointed yourself Welcome Wagon In Chief for the future arrivals of Sophia Loren and Raquel Welch. You're finally warm, sunny and 80 degrees, 24-7, year-round. You can drink all the whiskey you want. You can finally smoke those cigars! You can play ice hockey like you did as a boy. You can play Canadian Rules football too. All of the ways in which your body failed you are gone; all of the fun things your corporeal self was denied these past few years are yours again. It's an Independence Day of a different kind for you, wee man, as it is for me.

So the challenge continues, helped along by the words of Gilda Radner: I wanted a perfect ending. Now I've learned, the hard way, that some poems don't rhyme, and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.


JP said...

AMEN!, Sister

Diane said...

That was so beautifully written and so heartachingly devastating at the same time. Thank you. I never lost a parent but I have lost a daughter so this was something that brings it closer to home.

Anonymous said...

You just summed it all up for us. I miss him so much and I know that he is "warm at last".