Monday, February 25, 2013

A year without my dad.

Last Feb. 25 was a Saturday. Jenna and I were getting ready to go spend the morning with my dad while my mom ran some errands. But one phone call changed that, and everything else. Within 15 minutes, I was kneeling beside my dad’s body—neither of us breathing.

If you’ve asked me how I’ve been doing this past year, I probably said, “OK,” or “Much better,” or something like that. But the truth is that I’m still in shock. I would think that if you were attacked by someone with a machete and he sliced your right arm off, you would stand there frozen for a while as you tried to comprehend what had happened to you. I’m still doing that. I take care of my family and go to work and go to school and sing in the car with the radio and play Clue with my daughters and all of that, but the truth is that I cannot believe my dad is gone. I’m still frozen, staring at blood pouring out of the open wound, wondering if what happened is even real.

We adults who lose parents are in something of a no-man’s-land of grief. We have not lost someone who wasn’t supposed to have been lost. We have suffered a loss that follows the natural progression of things. We are supposed to bury our parents. We don’t say, “He had his whole life ahead of him.” It’s not the numb shock that gives way to the indescribable heartbreak we knew in 1992 when my teenaged sister-in-law died in a car accident.

When we lose a parent, people come to the funeral and send cards and bring food, but things get back to normal pretty quickly. We haven’t been through what people would call a “tragedy.” Instead, we who have buried our parents at the “natural” stage walk around in a silent devastation. We can keep living our lives the way we did before, for the most part. But a heartsick child wails away deep inside of us. A child who reels from the separation from this lifelong presence. A child that we keep safely tucked away while we go about our daily business. A child whose cries we muffle when someone asks us how we’re doing.

I don’t know what the older men I see in public think when they notice I’m staring at them. Maybe they are flattered. Maybe they are creeped out. All I’m doing is trying to picture my dad’s head on their bodies so it could almost be like seeing him again. I find myself wanting so badly to tell him something that I almost say it aloud to no one so I can pretend he’s listening. I’m momentarily confused when Jenna says she wants to go to the cemetery, and then I remember, “Oh, yes. My dad is dead and he’s buried there.”

These are the weird moments in which I have found myself during the past year.

When people ask how I’m doing, I’ll keep saying “OK,” or “Fine.” But what I’m really doing is waiting for the shock to pass so I can finally breathe again.