An Unexpected Gift.

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.



Risa, I am so sorry for your loss. I actually read your column about your dad a few weeks ago -- right around the first yahrzeit of my father's death last November. Our stories are eerily similar... my father had been in semi-poor health for years (he was diagnozed with emphysema several years ago when I was pregnant with my son) and although young (only 62 when he died) he seemed much older due to decades of self-destruction. Also, he was difficult in my childhood and in and out of my life as an adult -- sometimes very engaged (he loved my son) but then not callling me for 6 months. Helping to pay for college one semester (I also went to Penn - Class of 95), then nothing the following. I too had not spoken with him since Father's day and then got a call last Halloween saying his breathing had gotten much worse. Lung cancer diagnosis a few days later, but we still thought we had time, then the calls... come this week, no come tomorrow, no come today. He died 24 hours after I arrived - in time to say goodbye but not to resolve any of the issues that had lingered in our relationship. So, as I passed the anniversary of his death and your column found it's way into my Inbox, I got great comfort in hearing your story. Of course, I wouldn't wish this pain on anyone, but it somehow helps to know that others are going through it too. So, I hope that brings you some comfort as well, and as someone who is a year ahead of you in this journey, it does get easier. I don't have everything figured out yet and I am still very angry/sad/even guilty sometimes, but the days are easier. So, take comfort in your friends and family, and know that your column has brought comfort to others -- or at least to me.


Hi Risa, I stumbled upon your blog as an avid reader of Stephanie Wilder-Taylor. I am so sorry for your loss. Tomorrow marks the 2 year anniversary since I buried my father. He died of sudden heart-attack at the age of 54 while I was pregnant with my daughter. Losing a father is so tough. Again, I am so sorry for your loss. I hope you have the peace of "no regrets"... it has made my grief a bit easier. I am bookmarking your page. Thanks for sharing.


My 82 year old father arrives at my house in about 14 hours (with his younger bride of 43 years, my 69 year old mommy) in their RV enroute to Mexico for the winter. I will hold them both tightly for a long, long time and be grateful for the gift of your writing--the reminder to never, never take our parents for granted. God bless you Risa.


As I fly back and forth to Florida to help my mom with my ailing 85-year-old dad, I am reminded of that cliche — that in the end, all that matters is that we loved and that we were loved. It's good to acknowledge that before we get to "the end." My condolences to you and your family.


Risa, you've been giving me perspective and laughs through this column for a long while.
I can't thank you enough for sharing this very tough journey. It helps me to value things differently. Seeing my dad today will be something I treasure instead of viewing as normal. On another note, I anticipate getting a phone call much like the one you received. My father-in-law is living out his "retirement" in a similar fashion in Thailand. I appreciate you sharing that aspect of your experience with your dad. Your candor, as always, is refreshing.


Risa, I'm in the club too and started receiving the unexpected gift in 2007. I continue to receive gifts like your article that continue to bring my heart peace in the loss of my father. Your article is truly touching. Thank you.