by Risa Green
It’s getting easier. I feel like myself again, sort of. More like, a sadder, emptier version of myself, but at least that’s better than the constantly crying, depressed, obsessing-over-every-detail version that existed two weeks ago. The reality has set in now. My father is gone. All that’s left are pictures, memories, and a few of his things, like the little wooden hand with the middle finger stuck up that I found on his desk, which makes me laugh every time I see it. Or the gold initial ring that he got for his Bar Mitzvah, which makes me wish I had another child to name after him (though I can’t imagine what kind of a ‘G’ name could possibly ever satisfy me).
I still cry, though not as much. Usually it happens when I’m alone, with nothing to distract me; in the shower, in the car, at the top of the mountain that I hike up every week, with the expansive view of the ocean. My dad loved the ocean, and that view would have blown his mind. I’ve also noticed that every television show, commercial and movie seem to be about dead or dying fathers. I never noticed it before, but my husband, who lost his father when he was seventeen, assures me that I’m not imaging things. He’s been noticing it for twenty years.
When I can be objective about things, which is happening more and more often, I can say that the grief, I expected. The sadness I expected, too. Even his death, though sudden, was not a total surprise. You can’t abuse your body the way my father did and expect to live to be an old man. In the back of my mind, I always kind of knew that it would go down the way it did. But there is one thing that’s caught me off guard in all of this, and that is the way that other people have reacted to the news. My close friends, of course, have rallied around me – calling and e-mailing to check in, to see how I’m doing, offering to help with my kids or with whatever. They’ve been incredible, and I’m so lucky to have them. But it’s the people on the periphery of my life who’ve surprised me the most. I’ve gotten cards, emails, Facebook messages, even comments on this website, from people I barely know, or from people I used to know but haven’t spoken to in years, who just wanted to reach out and tell me their memories of my father, or, to let me know that I’m not alone. I have to say, I truly had no idea that so many people I know, who are my age or close to it, have lost their parents already. It’s as if I’ve been let into a club that I had no idea existed, and one that I would never choose to join. But now that I’m here, the advice and the empathy and the totally unexpected “just thinking about you’s” have been more touching, and have meant more to me, than almost anything else in my life.
For the last fifteen years, my father led an isolated, lonely, virtually friendless life; I used to secretly worry that when he died, nobody would find him for weeks, and when they did, they would have no idea who to contact. So I feel lucky, in a way, that at least he had a few people who cared about him, who knew him well enough to know that he had children, who had the presence of mind to call me when he was admitted to the hospital. And yet, in the wake of his death, in contemplating the emptiness of his life, I can’t help but be amazed at the richness and depth of my own. As one friend who lost her father wrote to me, life becomes richer in unexpected ways, from the gifts of a loved one’s passing. It’s hard sometimes to think about my father’s death as a gift, but in this particular sense, I think it really is. Through my father’s passing, I’ve come to see that I have love and support from places I never expected. And though it might sound cheesy and Hallmark card-y and so not Risa Green-ish, I need to put out there that this love and support has given a meaning to my life that I simply did not know was there. And if that isn’t a gift, then I don’t know what is.