May 1 2009 I’m leaving work to go home for lunch to let the dogs out. I’m in a good place, I have just “come out”, late but have fallen in love with an amazing woman K. We didn’t see it coming but here we are about 4 weeks into our relationship. I check my phone because we are in that stage, you know where you text a million times a day but don’t say much more than how much you adore each other. I pull out my phone to receive my latest love note and I see a text from my niece says “call home asap”. I get a sinking feeling I pull over, as I dial I talk myself through what might be on the other end of the line.
“Yeah, what’s going on? what happened?
There it was, the words we all know one day we will have to face as our parents get older we know one day, one day it will happen and we try to anticipate our reactions but they never match the real thing.
“What happened, why, what happened?” my niece isn’t sure he appears to have just passed in his sleep. He woke up early showered and was waiting for both of my nieces to come by to go to breakfast with them. Sat down in the chair shut his eyes and passed away.
My dad is the best grandfather in the world, he was a pretty good dad to me but the job of grandfather was made for him, I was fortunate to see him in action as he loved, played with and spoiled my nieces. That day I realized the sadness that if I were to have children they would never know that love and joy of feeling like the most important person in the world and being so purely adored by their grandfather. I never really thought I would have kids but suddenly I became sad feeling like these imaginary not had and not even wanted kids wouldn’t know my father.
I was confused and literally disoriented, kinda starting to cry but more whimpering with a hearbeat that felt like it would pound through my chest.
Breathe, breathe, breathe, turn the car around drive back to school tell them your not coming back because your father just died. Turn around and drive back, go.
I pull back into the parking lot, there’s Kelly, she lost her dad, she knows what this is, she knows how this feels, she is walking out of school towards me she sees a look on my face and knows something is wrong, she asks.
She proceeds to hug me with all she is, she hugs me so authentically, so hard, so caringly that for a moment the world is on pause and I feel like the pain in my heart transfers to her. “I’m sorry, what can I do? I’m so sorry”. “I need to just go in and let our boss know.” I need to tell my student teacher who is sitting in my office and has just started working with me.
I walk into a fog, everything is muffled, I go to the office but my boss isn’t there I see the next person in line, M the school psychologist she’s my friend. She hugs me, she’ll let them know, go be with my family. I walk in my office and I tell C my student teacher she hugs me I tell her to report to M if she needs anything. I leave.
I sent K a text and she calls me I tell her what has happened and she asks me if she needs to work I tell her no I’m on my way to the funeral home and will call her.
I’ve never lost anyone before so I’m completely treading water and have no idea what I need. In fact for 6-8 months I do not grieve, I do not cry, I do not acknowledge the pain. Until in a therapists office, I engage in an exercise that has me imagining my father is sitting across from me and I tell him/the empty chair what I never got to say before he left.
Dad I want to thank you for teaching me an amazing work ethic. I get my sense of responsibility and integrity in relation to work from you. You modeled such an amazing example that I noticed at a young age and was always aware that you provided for your family. I want to thank you for my sense of humor, I love that you always cracked a joke, you were smart, witty and funny. I miss you, I’m sorry we weren’t closer near the end of your life, I’m sorry I didn’t make time to always see you and that I let the relationship with my mother interfere with me maintaining a relationship with you. I hope your happy, safe and in a better place. I love you. I miss you. I’m sorry.
I arrive at the funeral home my two sisters and their husbands are there F is taking the lead and asking questions and helping to make the arrangements. My sister N sits near my mother crying. My brother is not there, he’s too sick, been sick for the past 15 years plus he has let the diabetes win and lives a hollow unfulfilling life in my mothers house who cares for him around the clock. My nieces hug and kiss me and I make the same rounds with my three sisters though we are not close. None of us are really close as sibilings the only one I had a close relationship with was with my brother but my sister L and I try sometimes.
We are moved to a table and the person at the funeral guides us delicately throught he routine, prayer cards, flowers, ribbons, coffins, obituary, death certificate and on and on. I hardly speak, N my sister does much of the talking and then translating into Spanish to my mother. Decisions are made, books are passed between us and everyone nods and agrees to things we will never remember we agreed to. My niece P looks at me and says “what they hell are you wearing?” I look down at my long sleeve aqua blue shirt with a red and grey striped sweater pulled over it, my eyes follow down my legs to my cuffed jeans which expose two different socks, one striped one argyle and then all the way down to my feet, two different shoes. She then points to the four multicolored bubbly shaped barrettes in my hair.
“It was mismatched day at school today, I forgot I was dressed like this.” Everyone laughs. Even the funeral director admits to thinking I was a little weird.
The arrangements get made and we start to leave, my sister asks if I want to see my father, no, no I don’t no. They are unable to show him to me because there are the remains of someone else there. The remains…..the remains, it sounds so removed from the person I called my father. I want to leave, I want to get out of here, I want to go, I have to go. I go home and recount the events to K she hugs me and comforts me and takes the next few days off of work to be with me. 4 weeks in and here is where we are the first of many traumas we will be dealt in our first year together and the first of what damages me for the next two years.