My father died last week.
I still haven’t really cried. That happens sometimes. We just don’t know what we feel, or we’re too busy to feel. Or, we’re not ready to feel.
In any case, it still feels crummy.
The morning after a sudden, massive heart attack claimed Dad’s life, my husband, kids and I were on a plane to New Jersey.
Family gathered. Young cousins played together. My sisters worked on preparations for a next-day funeral and the Shiva (a traditional mourning gathering) that followed at my childhood home.
I stayed up past 2 a.m. before my dad’s service to write his eulogy. It wasn’t enough time to summon all my significant memories or tap into definable emotions. A eulogy is but a glimpse, a brief good-bye that I will never adequately convey.
I am not entirely surprised that my father is gone. In some ways, it’s like he’s been gone for a long time. Perhaps he knew my life was pretty consistently challenging, and he didn’t want to intrude. Perhaps, deep down, he knew he had a knack for saying precisely the wrong thing, for pushing the wrong button (after all, my parents installed my hot buttons), so he said very little to me the last few years. I can see him passing the time sleeping in the armchair in my living room the few times he visited with my mom, usually to help out with Elijah during one of Raphael’s medical interventions. I was too busy to chit chat, and Dad was too taciturn to engage.
I regret that I didn’t call my dad after I had a dream about him just a week before his passing. My dream had turned into a daydream about him living close by and us going to coffee together and talking every day. I wished I could have understood my father better and had made time to really listen to him and hear his thoughts.
Not like he would have ever done that with me. It was just my dream.
Elijah also had a premonition about his grandfather’s doom. For the past couple of weeks, my fearless boy (who resembles my father as a boy) was suddenly expressing fears. He was afraid of tornados. And fire. And lightning. It was strange.
When we asked him about it, Elijah kept saying something bad was going to happen. I thought it was my son’s way of expressing vulnerabilities, a new awareness of what it means to be 5 and growing up yet still wanting to be a little boy. Now I think Elijah’s expression of fear was anxiety about upcoming loss.
It’s possible. Although they lived 2,000 miles apart, Elijah and his grandpa were close. People are connected in mysterious ways.
It’s also a mystery why we can laugh when we should be crying.
Children have a way of bringing us back to joy when all the world is in pain. The night before we flew home, my family of four and my sister, Deborah, remained with a few close friends at my mom’s house. We were weary yet wired from the last few days of greeting old neighbors, dear friends, and relatives whom I had never met over reheated food and too many platters of donated cookies.
My children put on a show for their grandma and aunt. I smiled when I saw the clip of Raphael break-dancing on Deborah’s Facebook page. I was glad to see my mom crawling on the floor and playing with her youngest grandchild just days after she lost her husband of 56 years.
I know she’s going to be OK without my dad because delight always follows despair, if you let it.
We were delighted to attend Raphael’s dear babysitter Tracy’s wedding the day after we returned home to Colorado. We let our kids stay up late and dance their hearts out even though we’d had a three-hour appointment for Raphael at Children’s Hospital earlier in the day, and it had been a whirlwind week. A gang of whirling little kids busted a move until 10:30 that night.
We celebrated Tracy and Dave because we are happy for them and because our kids were ecstatic, and free, and alive.
We celebrated because even though my dad is gone, I need to keep living.