Thursday, May 26, 2011

Six Years

It's been six years today since my Dad died. I’ve never written about his death here on the blog. I’ve never talked much about his death really and I’m not sure why that is. I’m sure there are a number of factors, not the least of which is how we as a society react to death. There seems to be an allotted grieving time immediately following the loss of a loved one and after that point it’s somehow indecent to still be in mourning or to continue talking about the loss. In the days immediately after he passed I kept busy as my brother and I cleaned my parents’ home in preparation of family visiting. The weeks after, I had my own little family to care for, a two year old to keep up with and a full time job that I could let distract me. I kept thinking I’d get to it, I kept expecting to take some Saturday and just let myself feel sad and let it all out. I never got to it.

It does seem acceptable to talk about the deceased lovingly after they are gone, to remember them fondly, to say, “Oh he would have loved this.” But to plainly sit and talk about his dying, about the months leading up to his death, my reaction to his passing, how it affected our family – in many ways I’ve felt like I couldn’t talk about it. To be quite honest, a big part of why I haven’t talked about it is because I feel relief that my Dad is not alive anymore. But that’s certainly not an acceptable statement. I’m not saying I’m glad he’s not here, but I did feel a sense of relief for him. I am glad that he’s not battling the same demons day in and day out. I am glad that he’s no longer in pain in any form.

The day my dad died, was almost exactly like today. Maybe that’s why I’ve felt it’s ok to begin talking about it. It was the Thursday before Memorial Day weekend, May 26th. It was warm and sunny, everything was green and lush. Quite the juxtaposition to the grimness of death and loss.

My dad had been diagnosed with Brain Cancer just before Christmas and we knew the prognosis was 6 months at most. The fact that he had been able to celebrate his birthday (along with mine and my brother’s) in April had been a small blessing. My mom and I had both felt lucky that he had stayed with us for that long. His actual passing was quiet, calm and really, kind of beautiful, as difficult as it was. My mom, brother and sister and I were able to be in the room with him. He was not in pain, he was sleeping and his breathing slowed and then stopped. He passed just before 6am, which still makes me smile now because he always woke up between 5:30 and 6 every morning. It was just such a “Dad” thing. The man had timing I guess.

We left the hospital after a bit and my brother & I started to clean my parents’ house, knowing that family would be coming on Sunday for a quiet memorial for my Dad. So, logically I went to the store to get supplies. As I drove I was stunned by how beautiful it was outside. It was warm, sunny, a perfect start to a long weekend and the unofficial start of summer. It was horrid. It was the complete contrast to how I was feeling inside and I couldn’t deal with it. I got the supplies I needed and went to check out. The cashier was super friendly (as they always are at this local shop) and greeted me with the common, “How are you?” and for the first time since I was a kid, I actually thought about my response before it came out of my mouth. How was I? Oh, you complete stranger, you really do not want the honest answer to that question. I managed a pleasant enough, “Fine,” and waited as he rang up my items. I knew I could make it through check out and back to the car. I started making lists in my head, where to start cleaning, which pictures mom would like out, what to do for dinner tonight. I was doing fine – until the cashier attempted a conversation.

“Getting some cleaning done before the party this weekend?”
Sir, I’m begging you to stop asking questions.

“Just doing some cleaning.” I had to force each syllable out of my mouth.

“It’s a beautiful day out there, going to be a great weekend!” He handed me my receipt
Finally I could leave. I don’t think I even said “thank you” but just got out of there as fast as I could. How could that man ask me such questions? How could he say it was going to be a great weekend? How could he be in such a good mood? By the time I sat in the car my brain caught up with the rest of me. I looked around and saw happy people, saw unhappy people, saw cars travelling, people buying groceries, pumping gas, going for a walk. I saw life moving along. Logically, I knew that life would continue after my Dad died, I knew I would feel sad, but I understood the nature of life. I wasn’t resentful of our mortality and in fact, I felt very grateful that we had warning about my Dad’s passing so I had time to spend with him before he died. But when it actually happened, it felt impossible to be sitting there watching the world continue on, when someone who had been such a big part of mine was gone.

That’s the beauty of life and death though. The grace in how life does continue, we do move forward. The trick is, to remember the good parts, to think fondly of those we’ve lost and to talk about them, to keep them with us in our way. That’s the great thing about love, it’s not strict about time. I haven’t been able to really process my Dad’s death fully, I’m not sure that I ever will, but I realize now that’s ok. I loved my dad, I can be sad I about his death, I can miss him whenever I want to and I can talk about that when it feels right to me. On the date of his passing, on our birthday, or on a random Tuesday.

Love makes no sense of space or time ~ U2

(Yeah, I quoted U2 in the post about my dead dad. He would have loved it!)

1 comment:

flyingfisher said...

This really touched me in so many ways. First of all your writing – the flow of your thoughts had me hanging on each word, each sentence. Not having known you then, I had no idea where it was going. I traveled along with you, wondering. Then I came to the juxtaposition,
“To be quite honest, a big part of why I haven’t talked about it is because I feel relief that my Dad is not alive anymore. But that’s certainly not an acceptable statement.”
You’d be surprised how many people feel that relief. I’m glad you got that out because what came after that is beautiful – not the “not acceptable” part, but that the day evoked your feelings so that you could say it out loud.
You see, what you wrote brought this to mind. One day in college a professor – was it in the class on William Blake? – told us about walking down the street in New York city on a bright beautiful celebratory spring day, and suddenly seeing a hearse drive by with a coffin in it. He guided us to imagine ourselves on the same day seeing the same thing. And to contemplate how on that sort of day death seems so far away – never entering our minds, but that it is there. He directed us to think about what it was like to be the person in the coffin, the life, the death, and the family. It has stuck with me for over 40 years.
I wondered why I didn’t cry when I got first the call that my Dad had died. Happily, I had just been down to visit him with my daughter shortly before his death. Then, as I began to make phone calls to all my cousins in Maine, I finally did cry because with the sharing of the news came many sharing of joys. One in particular was that on the same day he died, a new cousin as born and his grandmother suddenly became profoundly happy and sad all on the same day, and remarked, “I can see their souls crossing.” And I got to tell them all at a memorial service stories about my Dad as a father. I cried and then looked out to see a beatific smile on my cousin’s face which sustained me and affirmed by sharing.
My mother had Alzheimer’s Disease. She had been living in Virginia. First we tricked her into coming to live with me and my family, then eventually we had to move her to a facility. I hunted for just the right one in New Hampshire and found it. A few years later my brother came up from CT so he and I could drive up to visit her. She had by then forgotten my name. That day we brought Chinese food to eat with her, and read poems to her, and even sang one of them. But for the first time she was in a wheel chair and I wondered why. So I had my brother help me get her to her feet. But her brain had changed so much that she literally couldn’t be brought to a fully standing position. She was in an upright posture, but leaning back 20 degrees. That was that. I started thinking about her quality of life now. She had declined from being physically robust, throwing Velcro balls at targets, enjoying the guitar playing and singing. Less than two weeks later I got the call. She had died most likely of a stroke. They called someone in to be with her, to sing to her as she passed. And I felt relief. Relief that she was free of the frustrations of not understanding why the other residents seemed strange. Relief from combativeness. And working so hard to get her food on her fork, just like a toddler. Relief that she had gone quietly and quickly, and not in pain.