We’d probably be arguing about whether or not fears of the COVID pandemic are warranted.
I would plead with him to either wear a mask, (I’m not wearing a mask, he would practically hiss) or to stop going to Wal-Mart altogether. (You know, they got a deal on russet potatoes this week? Five pounds for $2!)
He would blame the spread of the disease on protesters, (That’s what you get for protesting! No one is making them do it!) and we’d go back and forth about the right to protest, perhaps a whole two turns, before he’d digress into something like, You know, this country was also full of protests during Vietnam. To which I would say, Exactly! And he’d say, Lot of good that did them. And I would face palm myself. And then he’d say, It doesn’t even concern you. It’s right there in the phrase: Black Lives Matter.
At this point in the conversation, it would be time to turn our attention elsewhere–because neither of us was going to change each other’s mind.
We’d talk about the weather, the kids, my work, Doug’s work, and house repairs. If we veered too much into local and state pandemic policies, I’d guide it back to a good book that I’d read, and he’d remind me for the thousandth time that he really loved Louis L’Amour’s westerns. Have you ever read any of those?
At some point, we would eat something that Doug had cooked: fried chicken or steak with billowy garlic mashed potatoes and blanched green beans. Dad would say a murmured prayer that no one could hear, head bowed low, and then silently eat his whole meal before wiping his mouth and pronouncing, “Well, you done good, Sharon.”
And we would laugh.
If my dad were alive today, we would be having some tough conversations. I know that. For sure.
But I also know that I’d rather have him alive to talk about them than to not have him at all.
When my dad died five years ago, I didn’t have the chance to say good-bye.
Since then, I’ve had a few dreams about him. But nothing that has given me much closure.
The dream went like this: My dad is alive. So is my mom and her new husband, Warren. And everyone is okay with this.
It’s a dream, right? You know how dreams are.
It’s also Thanksgiving and we’re back at our old house in Huber Heights. The table is set up in the living room, which is awkward. But that’s because my youngest sister’s bed is set up in the dining room, and we’re all coping with that.
There are lots of chairs around the table, but no one is sitting down. I see that it’s because, apparently, everyone has already eaten except me. I feel hungry. And yet I’m frustrated because there is food all over the table and the floor. I start picking up, scraping bits of food into my hands: lemon wedges, wet and cold Spaghetti-os, cracker crumbs, and rice. Absolutely nothing that looks like anything we would actually eat at Thanksgiving dinner.
No one is helping me. Actually, I can sense that they are annoyed that I’m cleaning up. They’re all talking with each other, laughing, having a great time.
Apparently, my dad and Warren are old pals. I can hear my dad’s laugh above everything else. That cutting HA! that interrupts what someone else is saying, just before saying, “Well, that’s just like what they did down there in…” And he segues into a new story. They’re off to the races.
Ah, whatever, I think as I get up from scraping up food from the carpet. Maybe later.
By the time I get over to where I think my dad is, I see my mom sitting on the sofa, staring out the window, a book on her knees. She’s sad. And she won’t talk about it.
And she’s also pregnant. Like third-trimester pregnant. At sixty-some years old. Her hands rest protectively on her belly.
It’s a dream, right?
Suddenly, she’s gone. The book is still there, conveniently left open to the page that she was reading, marked with underlining. The heading reads “Brain Disorders.”
“It’s her decision,” my dad says. He’s there now, sitting on the couch.
“Why won’t she talk about it with me?” I ask.
“This isn’t about you. This is between her and God.”
“But…” I can’t think of the words. But what I feel is this immense emptiness opening in the fabric of my life. This is isn’t about you. This is between her and God.
Through the window, I see the tree in our backyard tipping over, its roots becoming exposed to the air.
“I don’t want her to make that decision,” I finally say.
“It’s not about you,” he repeats.
He is not somber. He’s actually quite jovial about it. His health has been restored to the last time that I remember him being physically and mentally well, probably around 2007. He tries to help me see the positive possibilities. What if the brain disorder actually benefits the baby? He tries to give me examples of babies with certain brain disorders who were born in the past and who are now astounding doctors. He places his fingers close together and far apart, saying something about the spaces between synapses.
“But we don’t know what type of condition the baby has,” I say.
“You can’t know everything that you want to know,” he says. “Sometimes, you have to trust God.” He is laughing.
“What?” he says.
I reach over and grip his large hand in mine, pull it to my heart and lock it there so that we are connected from fingers to elbow. This is not something I ever remember doing when he was alive. Our family wasn’t big into hugs and we certainly didn’t hold each other’s hands.
But I don’t have the words anymore.
All I have is the grief of his loss.
The knowing that when this is over, he’ll be gone again. He will slip away for months or years, away into realities that I cannot sense or galaxies where I cannot travel. He’ll be gone again and I’ll still be here.
And I won’t know when I’ll see him again.
I don’t know what I’m doing, but I feel that I’m sending out everything that I want to say but can’t find the words for. All the empty spaces in my life where he should be. All the moments that he should have seen with his grandkids. All the times that I regret I didn’t spend more time with him. All the jealousy that I have for my peers who still have their fathers with them. All the love that I still have for him that has nowhere to go, nowhere to land. And so it swirls inside of me and rises at unexpected moments. Crying in the store over 0.99 cent cinnamon rolls. (I would pay you $1 NOT to eat them!, I had joked.)
My roots are raw and exposed, my world is upside down.
I pull him all the way to me, into my very heartbeat.
And he starts weeping.
He doesn’t deny how I’m feeling. He doesn’t tell me it will all be okay. He stops mentioning God and the possibilities.
He just weeps with me.
We don’t talk anymore. I just hold his arm against me until all the emotions are gone and what remains is stillness. Peace.
Once all these emotions have been released, the truth that remains is that my father is Gone.
And I don’t have to be okay with that.
I’m not angry. Anger is just an emotion that covers a far deeper wound.
No, the anger is gone.
Now, all that’s left is love and pain. And it’s not wrong. It’s not a failure or a flaw. Sometimes, this is just the way that it is.
Sometimes, love just plain hurts. Sometimes life grinds cold Spahetti-os into the carpet, pulls out trees by their roots, and takes away the people that you love the most. And it gives zero shits about how you feel about any of it.
But there is also Peace to be felt in the middle of it.
But first, the pain has to find its way out. It cannot be numbed or ignored or medicated. It needs to be felt and acknowledged, directed and released.
The only way to Peace is through the Pain.
I woke up shortly after that, replaying the bits and pieces that I remember over and over. Dreams are often slippery suckers. But I think this one will stay with me for quite a well.
It felt like a chance to show my dad what I’m carrying with me through this life, now that he is gone. But also to assure him that I will be okay, as long as I have someone to hear my stories, as long as there is an outlet for the emotion to flow through me and settle elsewhere. It’s the bottling up that makes grief unbearable.
It felt like a space to catch my breath.
A moment to hold on with all I have.
A moment to decide to let it all go.
It felt like my chance to say good-bye.
When you are far away I dream on the horizon And words fail, and, Yes, I know that you are with me; you, my moon, are here with me, my sun, you are here with me, with me, with me, with me.
Time to say goodbye To countries I never Saw and shared with you, now, yes, I shall experience them. I’ll go with you On ships across seas which, I know, no, no, exist no longer.
with you I shall experience them again. I’ll go with you
“Con Te Partiro” Lucio Quarantotto, as sung by Andrea Bocelli