I got the call to come home around 2 in the afternoon last Monday, and by 5:30 I was at the airport, still in shock. Luckily I was sitting by myself in the last row of the airplane, so I hoped no one had noticed my tears.
I got off the plane tear-streaked and disoriented, and while I waited to speak to the gate attendant, the pilot of the plane walked up to me and pressed plastic wings into my hand.
I hope you feel better, he said.
I wanted to ask him if he really thought the wings would help with that? But I didn’t.
Then I noticed that the woman who had been sitting in the row in front of me had waited for me to get off of the plane. She approached me and asked if I was ok, and I said honestly that I wasn’t, and I told her what had happened.
She said I’m going to hug you now. And she did. I have never clung to a stranger the way I clung to that woman.
She lowered her head to look me in the eye, and as though this were obvious, she said: You know, he’s going to be ok.
I wanted to stamp my foot and tell her that NO, he was not going to be ok. But while I talked myself out of that temper tantrum, I looked into her eyes and closed my palm around those plastic wings in my hand, and suddenly I knew the truth.
He was going to be ok. Not the kind of ok I would prefer in my flesh, but ok nonetheless.
I guess what I’m still wondering is: how am I going to be ok?
I mean, I know people survive this. But right now that seems like a distant oasis, and it really could just be a mirage, so desperate am I to believe there is relief from this desert.
It’s funny how knowing a thing is bound to happen does not actually prepare you for the actual occurrence of the thing. Daddy has been sick, I mean really sick, so many times in the last decade. For years, whenever my mom called and left a message to “call me back as soon as you possibly can” I’ve assumed it was the call. I’ve actually instructed her not to use those words unless someone was dead. I shouldn’t have bothered with the instructions– turns out, if it’s really really bad, she won’t be the one who calls.
Unfortunately, I have many friends who have been through the trauma of losing a parent, and their words of support have been both comforting and unnerving. It’s comforting to know that people have walked this path before and understand how this feels. All week I have been thinking about how losing him physically hurts. It feels like I have unzipped my skin and stepped outside with all of my nerves exposed. My friend Ann Marie described it as “raw” and it took me only a half beat to recognize that those two things are the same.
But to look around and realize I have joined a club of people who have lost a parent– I can’t tell you the weight that is on my heart about how I have or have not reacted to their loss. I’m sure that I’ve offered words of condolence, but what I can’t quite remember is whether or not I have taken the time to recognize that the person left grieving is actually not the same person as before. I think the answer is no. I don’t know if it’s just something you don’t understand until you experience it, or that I’ve just been oblivious. Probably the latter. I’m pretty self-centered that way.
At the funeral, I spoke about the bonus years, and I concluded that every day should be treated as a bonus. But allow me to just offer the truth: I have thought in the last few days that I will certainly get right on that as soon as I feel like a normal person again, maybe next year or the year after that. I’ve actually been using my time figuring out how I can minimize the impact of future deaths on my life.
I’m not kidding.
You can assume that if I love you, I have considered the grief I would save myself if I just went ahead and cut you out of my life right now. I texted this idea to Lee from the waiting room at the hospital, and he told me this was crazy. I feel sure that in a few weeks I will agree with him, but right now it is so so tempting.
My mom– she is always trying to take pictures. She’ll interrupt a family function at the most inopportune time.
Get together, she’ll say, and I roll my eyes and sigh that bratty sigh.
We actually got into a kerfluffle at my wedding over this: her need to stop and take a big family picture, and the related herding of cats/relatives…and my desire to…not do that.
But now I know that was tragically stupid. One thing I noted in preparing for the funeral: WHERE ARE ALL OF MY PICTURES? WHY DID I NOT TAKE MORE PICTURES WITH MY DAD? The lack of pictures with him in it has compounded the tragedy to me somehow, because there won’t be any more pictures with him. I squandered my time for pictures, and there isn’t any more.
You people. The ones who have time left. TAKE THE DAMN PICTURE.
That is all.