Friday, July 24, 2015

"Then they stay dead"

You think that their
dying is the worst
thing that could happen.

Then they stay dead.

         - Donald Hall, from Distressed Haiku

Eight weeks ago today was my father's funeral. The first days passed in a haze of exhaustion and stunned disbelief. The first month was filled with moments of sudden pain as memories would catch me up, or events would trigger a fierce longing for him.

At the one month mark, I removed the torn ribbon the rabbi had pinned on my shirt at the funeral. While I am not a deeply religious person, there is some wisdom in the rituals around death and pinning that ribbon on each morning for 30 days was not just a reminder for me (as if one forgets the loss), but also a reminder for others to be patient with me. That I had just suffered a loss. That I was actively grieving.

This past month has been one of healing and returning to routine. Or so I thought.

This morning, I was overwhelmed by a terrible longing to talk to my dad. It came out of nowhere. It's not a 'special' day - not a birthday, not a holiday, nothing happened to trigger a particular memory. I just realized how long it had been since we spoke last. I miss him. And the realization hit that each time I thought of him, it would be longer and longer since I told him I loved him, hugged him, or just talked about some mundane thing or another.

And those lines from Donald Hall's poem burst into my mind. Then they stay dead. 

The death of my father isn't my first loss and it won't be my last, but for whatever reason, it's hit me the hardest. My mother died 3 years ago this September, and her's had been a slow decline, her memories and cognition worn away by dementia. I think I said my goodbyes to her long before her actual passing. But my father was lucid and mentally vital until just before the end. We had several weeks together in the last months of his life where we had deep and honest conversations. There was nothing left unsaid. No unfinished business remained between us. And he chose to stop dialysis with a full understanding of his decision, with grace, with dignity.

I miss him.

It's true that the dead never leave us as long as our memories of them stay alive. There is some comfort to be found there. This raw feeling will not be with me forever - and perhaps that is part of this pain. Perhaps I am holding on to the grief as a way to hold on to my father.

He'd be the first to tell me to let it go. To assure me that it will be fine. That he will always be there for me.

That is what I choose to hold onto today: the memory of his love.

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