by Risa Green
It’s hard for me to believe that it’s been a year since my father died. In some ways, it flew by, just like every other year seems to these days. But in other ways, it went excruciatingly slow as I tried to process what happened, to make sense of it all, and to try to come to peace with it. I can’t say that I’ve succeeded at all of those things quite yet, but I’m getting there.
In the weeks just after his death, I remember asking some of my friends who have lost parents how they ever got through it. How were they ever again able to get through a single day without crying? How were they ever again able to think about anything else? I got a lot of different answers, but they all boiled down to the same thing: it gets easier. And it does. I don’t cry every day any more, and my father’s death isn’t the very first thing I think of when I wake up. One friend who lost her mother said that the emotions she feels are no less intense than the day her mom died, she just thinks about it less. And I’ve found that to be true as well. It’s still not easy. But it is, you know, easier.
The thing about getting through an entire year, though, is that you learn what to expect. The first year after losing someone close to you is fascinating in a way, because you see what reminds you of your loved one in a way that you just can’t when they’re alive. For example, Passover reminds me of my father because he used to make his own horseradish, and during the Seder every year he and my uncle would have contests to see whose face would turn redder from eating it. Even though my father and I hadn’t spent Passover together in years, I’m sure I always smiled at the thought of it when I put horseradish on the Seder plate. But this past Passover, just buying the horseradish at the market made me burst into tears. And so now I know for next year that I should expect to get teary when I buy horseradish. I also now know to expect it when I’m roasting pumpkin seeds at Halloween, or when I’m making a kugel at Rosh Hashanah, or when the tooth fairy comes to visit our house (when I would accuse him of being the tooth fairy, he’d say who are you calling a fairy? Not so PC my father, but still…). The first time I did all of those things I was shocked at how upset they made me. The tears came out of left field, totally unexpected. But that’s what’s great about getting through that first year; you learn what triggers the memories, and so you’re not so surprised when you start to cry in the horseradish aisle. Knowing that it’s going to happen doesn’t make the feelings go away, but they do make it, you know, easier.
My husband tells me that in time, the triggers will eventually become something I look forward to, instead of something that I dread. His father died twenty years ago, and he says that he hardly ever thinks about him anymore. So when an opportunity does arise for him to think about his dad, it makes him happy to remember. I’m looking forward to getting to that place someday. It seems, you know, easier.