I don’t know, really, where I should begin talking about this. It seems trite and insensitive to start off with a cold “my father died last week”, even though emotionally that’s all I can come up with as an opening line. Everything that’s happened this past week has revolved around that event, for good or for ill, and ignoring it is not going to do anything but harm.
Well, I do want to thank everyone who was let in on the knowledge for their thoughts and support. Knowing that I had people to back me up if and when it got to be too much helped me out immensely, and prevented me from reaching a full collapse. So, once again, thank you. You know who you are.
To say merely that Dad loved us all would be an insulting understatement. My father lived every second of his life for his family, and he worked himself to exhaustion trying to provide for us. Even in times when the stress of his job got to him, he always had time to talk, to hear out our problems, and to help. I can say with unequivocal conviction that he was the model of what a father is and should be, and that if I live to be a thousand years I’ll never match up to such a high standard. He is the man whom I respect above all others, and will for all of time.
There’s often a tendency to whitewash the deceased; unpleasant details are overlooked or simply forgotten. I’m not going to do that here, but neither will you hear a bad word about my father come out of my mouth: this is because there was nothing. Perhaps I’m biased; perhaps I am unconsciously overlooking those slight flaws that make the masterpiece. Then again, when you look at the whole of the picture, even flaws which, up close, look bad just… fit. If he had any bad points, if he had a character trait that was less than flattering, then its unpleasantness faded when placed in perspective with the rest of what he was. Perhaps I don’t see the flaws simply because I have been looking at the big picture for so long. Maybe it turns out they’re unimportant in the long run anyway. Would that really be so bad?
Dad always said to me, whenever I would start thinking about what was going to happen, “just take things one day at a time.” He said it in the face of the bad and the good alike. I never understood why he said it when I was talking about something that I was looking to in the future; I have the tendency to think too far ahead, and he knew that. He knew that sometimes a string of bad luck can wipe out weeks, months, years of planning ahead. And sometimes, all it takes is one wrong moment.
Dad was not sick. It was with some amount of amusement that my mother explained this to our family; “I have high blood pressure,” she said, “and his boss had high blood pressure, but he didn’t. He was a carrier. He caused high blood pressure!” Okay, so maybe he had a way of being infuriatingly tight-lipped about what he was thinking, but I hardly think that’s a damning flaw. Anyway, Dad wasn’t sick. He had no illness, no disease, no condition– he had even lost a lot of weight (safely, over time). The rupture in his heart was completely random.
That’s what makes this so hard. This was not an act of will. This was not something that can be blamed on anything. The situation could be more cathartic if it had been: we would have a focus for our rage, a scapegoat for our grief. The lack of a whipping boy, something to take the punishment we seem so desperate to mete out, means we have little choice but to ascribe this to the whim of God, Fate, Time, The Universe, or Whatever. And though we scream, though we rend our clothes and tear our hair, though we cry ourselves dry and shout ourselves mute, the universe gives no reply. The only sounds returning to us are the cries of those who are not responsible for this tragic moment, and who mourn with us.
Many loved ones came to us, offering their shoulders and their sympathies. We needed them. We still need them; this is not a process that heals easily or cleanly. But it showed to me, in particular, what a home really is. My family moved around quite a bit when I was little; Dad’s siblings scattered throughout the Northeast, and some even headed to Alaska. All who could join us in the tiny village of Cuba, New York this past week did so. That was blessing enough; but the community in that village came out with all twenty-one guns blazing, with flowers and cards, and well-wishes, coming from every corner of town. People we thought had long since forgotten us came by to pay their respects. I had never paid much mind to Cuba before this, but I realize now that it is our home, just as much as Sharon ever was.
Thursday night, I wrote that “it hurts a bit less each day. The jury’s still out on whether that’s a good thing.” In some sense, that’s my biggest concern. Each day that passes, I’m more used to the idea of not being able to talk with Dad on my way home from work, of not seeing him when I come back home for weekends or longer visits, of not having him on the other side of the table when we go to the casino to play Texas Hold ‘Em (for the record, he was far better than I am). With each day that passes I get over my grief a little bit more; and while I know that I’ll need to move on fully one day, I don’t want to. Because, emotionally, moving on sounds too much like “leaving him behind”. I don’t want to forget him, for even a second… but life does not give me that luxury. This is a wound that must not be closed too quickly, but neither should it be left open too long.
It is important to realize that the world did not come to an end because of this; it won’t. If the world were so fragile as to hinge on the existence of one man, then I would have some stern words to say about the matter to the Engineer of the Universe when I inevitably meet him (most of which would condemn me to hell even if I didn’t say them to his face). Life goes on, as it must. With time the wound will close, and it will do so in a way that allows us to feel properly thankful for the good my father did in his time here. For the moment, it is enough to know that he is at peace, that the affairs of this world– its vagaries and victories, its horrors and holinesses, its bailouts and blessings– no longer matter to him.
But he still matters to us. He always will matter to us.