Three weeks ago to the day, my dad suddenly died.
This is hundredth time I’ve typed those words – my dad died – and it never, ever gets any easier. I tried typing words like “passed away” or “left us,” words that feel softer when said aloud but words that do not look soft in print. They look escapist. Treacherous.
Death is such a funny, terrible thing. This dichotomy of hilarity and agony is only amplified when you are the peculiar type of human who uses humor to cope.
Here’s a story for you. Three weeks ago, my mother and I sat in a hospital next to a bed where my deceased father lay, looking utterly peaceful. My sister, her fiance, my husband, and my grandmother were on the way.My grief was comprehensive and utterly overwhelming. I felt as if someone had reached into my chest, through the muscle and sinew and bone, and torn out my beating heart. I also felt as if that heart had just stopped in place. More dichotomies.
My mother and I sat, on either side of the bed, alternately holding his hands, sobbing uncontrollably, and taking turns assuring one another that somehow, somefuckinghow, it would all be alright. With tears in her eyes, she looked up and said, “Father’s coming to give him a blessing.”
The timing seemed a little off.
“Oh?” I said.
Moment later, Father John glided into the room. Father John is a man of average height, with a soft voice, compassionate gaze, and comforting demeanor. I saw my mother relax immediately in his presence.
After the blessing, he asked my mother about the arrangements. She told him that my dad wanted to be cremated and come home. “He loved being home.”
And he did.
Father, full of grace, nodded.
“I suppose we’ll go to the funeral home tomorrow to pick out an urn.” She began to cry again.
Father John placed a gentle hand on her shoulder, “That can be challenging, but there’s comfort in it, too. In bringing forth their wishes.”
“Yes,” she sniffed. “He wanted something simple.”
Silent until this moment, I chimed in, “Well, he always said we could put him in a Chock Full ‘o’ Nuts can and drop him off a cliff.”
Looking into the horrified faces of my mother and Father John, I experienced three fundamental realizations in one fell swoop:
1- Not everyone has seen The Big Lebowski.
2- Father John is the epitome of kindness for saying, “Well, it’s hard to know why people want what they want.”
3- I will miss my dad desperately every time I open my mouth to say something like that for the rest of my life.
My dad did always joke about the Chock Full ‘o’ Nuts can. He would have laughed explosively at that joke. Somewhere, wherever he is, I’m sure he did. “Damn it, Kate. You’re out of your element.”
I am completely without element, Dad. I don’t even know where to begin to look for one.
My dad was the funniest sort of person. He loved to laugh more than he loved most things – a big belly laugh. In his eulogy I wrote, “You could tell him a joke – it didn’t even have to be all that funny – and he would erupt into that raucous belly laugh. He’d never leave you hanging, no matter how bad the joke. The effect was immediate and infectious. Dad never laughed alone.”
For some odd reason, this blog made him laugh. It always was a silly blog. In fact it was, without doubt, a compilation of the most ridiculous words I’ve ever written. But he loved it.
More than just this blog, he loved the fact that I wrote. This summer, he asked me at least a hundred times when I was going to start writing again, when I was going to start blogging again, when I was going to finish my novel. He was so passionate about this that he even suggested I go back to bartending to free up the brainspace to do it – and he HATED that I’d been a bartender. It wasn’t the nature of the work, mind you, but that he was a “girl dad,” a dad of all daughters, a dad who had once been a young man at a bar. “I may have been born at night, Kit, but it wasn’t last night.”
So here we are.
I understand that this is an odd return to blogging. I understand that this blog has, historically, been riddled with my opinions about a great many things about which I know nothing, pictures of my labradoodle, and tales of my hostile uterus.
But I’ve lost myself. A dear friend told me that losing her dad made her feel like all of the skin on her body had been peeled away, leaving nothing but thousands of exposed nerve endings. “Everything is agonizing.”
And so it is.
I feel that exposure. But the exposure also takes a different form. I feel as if I’ve lost my mooring. I feel utterly adrift. At times, I’m not really sure who I am anymore. I get the feeling that I might be searching for that answer for the rest of my life.
But this place, this tiny corner of the internet that once made him laugh and brought me such joy, feels like it might be a good place to start looking.
Through the pain – through the fucking agony that is grief of this magnitude, a quiet refrain echoes in my head. “Life is good, Kitster.”
During chemo, after radiation, recovering from surgery, or when he experienced side effects so severe that even drinking water caused him discomfort – through the entire fucking ordeal – he would say, “Sure, this sucks, but life is good. Life is good.”
And so it is.
Life is good. Life is also hard. The days are long. The nights are dark. The winds of time are relentless and cold. The world keeps soldiering on. Meanwhile we, who grieve desperately, feel suspended. We are suspended between the disbelief that it can’t possibly have happened only three weeks ago and that ohmygod, OHMYGOD, it has only been three weeks. How can we endure?
But we remember him. Life is long – even when it isn’t – but life is good.
My dad was the man who, when told that a new tumor might render him unable to walk, turned to the neurosurgeon and said, “Well, Mrs. Lincoln, other than that, how did you enjoy the play?”
My dad was the man who, when told that he was a good “girl dad,” would reply, “I am utterly awash in the Estrogen Sea.”
My dad was a thumbs-up as you pulled out of the driveway, a tome of crossword answers, and the biggest, warmest, most ensconcing hug you’d ever had.
My dad was the man who always had a funny story for his oncologist, who made his nurses laugh, who inspired his surgeons. My dad was the man who made such a huge impression on people that his last nurses, who cared for him for a mere three days, came to his wake.He was the man who gave nicknames to his fellow chemotherapy recipients, who tried to make everyone’s day brighter every chance he got.
As such, it seemed only appropriate to begin his eulogy with a joke. “If my dad were to deliver his own eulogy, he’d probably open with a joke from Caddyshack. ‘I bet you get a free bowl of soup with an urn like that.’ It looks good on you though.”
That, friends, is the goodness of my dad. To the very last moment, he made the people around him laugh. To be honest, he’s still making us laugh.
He always told us that, at all costs, we should try to leave each interaction, each person, each moment better than we found it. In his eulogy for his own father, my dad said, “Everyone loved my dad. Everyone thought that my dad was their best friend. He made everyone feel important and honored and heard. And in that, maybe he was everyone’s best friend.”
Life is funny isn’t it? Because in my eulogy, I the same thing about my dad. Everyone loved him. Everyone thought he was their best friend. He made everyone feel important and honored and heard.
On the lid of his urn, a plaque reads, “May the work I have done speak for me.”
May the work I have done speak for me.
I’m not sure what this blog, some of the work I have done, says for or about me. I’ll figure that out in time.
What my dad’s life and work said about him, however, was simple.
Be kind. Love fiercely and without apology. Help others as much as your can. Eat well. Drink better. Plan as if you’ll live a hundred years. Live as if today is your last. And perhaps above all else, don’t forget to laugh. Laugh often. Laugh with abandon. Pass it on.
He was the first man I ever loved, my first friend, my buddy, my confidante, my compass. I loved him. I love him still.
He was my dad.
I will miss him desperately until the day I die. I know this to be true. I know this deep down in my very bones.
I also know, just as profoundly, that he has left a handprint on my heart. I carry him with me.
I will laugh. I will write. I will live. I will live well.
To you dad, wherever you are, I know you’re out of your element too, right now. We’ll get there. We’ll figure it out. The “kids” are alright. I know you were always worried about that. We’re alright. We’re awash in the Grief Sea right now, but the ship is yar, the hands are plenty, and life is good.