Mornings are the hardest. Especially this morning: a dark, humid, gloomy morning when I was dragged from my sleep by the sound of heavy raindrops hitting the windows. In the morning, it’s real all over again, and I have to work through my tears and talk myself into breakfast, laundry, dishes, and even play. A few deep breaths, a few cups of coffee, and we’re off. I can go through the motions, but it’s hard to imagine that I will ever experience joy in the same way I did before last week.
The audacity of the world, that it should continue to turn.
Around midday, I try to become a Zen Buddhist. Death is part of life. In spite of my emotional nature, I have always been able to rationalize tragedy. Things are meant to happen. With Michael’s death, I was devastated, but it was logical, if not comforting, to say he was “better off.” He’d struggled with addiction for so many years, and it was leading him down some very dangerous paths. “He’s in a better place,” Joey said to me, and though I was grieving, I had to agree. Michael had never been at peace with himself, and now he was resting peacefully.
But Dad? I’ve been unable to utter such platitudes. I think there must be a reason, but what it is, I have no idea. At times like these, I wish I were religious, wish I could put unquestioning faith in something, some deity, so that I wouldn’t have to question. I do find comfort in thinking that Dad is with Michael now, that maybe Michael needed some guidance in the great beyond, and the great power, or powers, chose Dad as his angel. I guess that makes some sense, brings some solace.
Two weeks ago, as we were getting ready to go on vacation, I thought about my connection to my parents, and felt, in some ways, like a kid: I often called my Dad for advice, talked to both of my parents a couple of times a week, made the two-hour drive to Waltham on a regular basis. “Is this normal?” I wondered. But then I didn’t care. I enjoy their company, enjoy seeing their delight in their grandchildren. A few days later, I lost Dad. Does this mean I’m a real adult now?
There’s a sense of panic that comes from losing a parent. I feel it most intensely in the early hours of the morning, when everyone else is sleeping and I try to imagine life without Dad. I convince myself I’m in the midst of a very long nightmare, but no matter how hard I pinch myself, I can’t wake up.
But I know this grief, at least as I’m experiencing it now, is temporary. I know I’ve been extremely fortunate to have had such a close relationship with my Dad, to have created so many memories with him—good, bad, humorous, sad, tender, silly. And I’m fortunate to have had a father who was loved by more people than I ever imagined, as evidenced by the never-ending line of people at his wake, friends and acquaintances who uttered phrases like “wonderful man,” “real gentleman,” “proud father,” “hard worker,” “funny bastard.” And the outpouring of support and goodwill has been more than touching. Once again, I am grateful for my oversized extended family, the multitude of aunts and cousins and uncles who have provided comfort, food, babysitting, anecdotes, levity, tissues. I love my chaotic clan.
And I’ve learned not to question how people grieve, or how people respond to grief. It’s touchy and awkward, and sometimes people simply don’t know how to respond. My good friend Steph said, when I called her, “I don’t know what to say.” And I was so grateful for that, for her honesty, for crying instead of trying to find the right cliché.
Another friend, the daughter of my Dad’s old buddy (who is also my godfather), was even more primal in her response. Although we hadn’t spoken in 20 years, she called to offer her condolences: “That #@*%ing sucks!” she exclaimed. And after 20 years, we were easily re-connected by a couple of appropriate expletives.
And then there is Mom, my incredibly strong Mom, who has lost a brother and a sister and a mother and a father and a son and a husband but who still finds the strength to comfort her children, to play with her grandchildren, when even getting out of bed in the morning must feel like an insurmountable task. Amazing, wonderful, Mom.
The philosopher Kierkegaard said that suffering is the origin of human consciousness, but sometimes I’d rather be oblivious. Nevertheless, I know that even if the grief doesn’t pass, it will diminish until it is merely a dull ache, an ache that will eventually be overshadowed by the memory and spirit of “the old man.”
I thought he’d live forever
He seemed so big and strong
But the minutes fly
And the years roll by
I never will forget him
For he made me what I am
Though he may be gone
Memories linger on
And I miss him, the old man
--from “The Old Man” by John McDermott