Tacenda: n. things better left unsaid; matters to be passed over in silence
It is a strange feeling to realize that it has now been four months since my father passed. I know a lot of friends who have lost their parents in the time between then and now - and I guess this blog post is for them. The night I found out - I felt terribly, tragically, utterly alone - all I wanted was to be able to hug my dog and have a good cry.
Instead I watched some Netflix, read a few books, and slept. Around 5am I woke up feeling the weight of sadness pressing down upon me and walked to my desk and began to write. I sent the below writing out to a few close friends in the morning. Today I decided to share what I wrote here so that I will always remember just how it was I felt that day.
I worry that, like all memories eventually do, my recollection of that event will become cloudy and grey - and I want to remember these moments, good and bad, as clear as I can. So I am writing - sometimes short little bits and pieces here and there, and sometimes longer ones. But I am putting my memories into words so that I will always have something to look back on. The entry below is filled with things I certainly don't think right now - but it is how I felt then. And I think its important to acknowledge that we aren't creatures you can easily define. We change and we change often - and the feelings below aren't necessarily the feelings I experience now when I look back on that day.
I should add, though its a bit more personal than I like to admit, that in the days that followed my father's death - I felt like little more than a ghost of sorts, just flitting ethereally through life. My body might have been here, but my mind was elsewhere. Now, four months later, my mind and body have been rejoined for quite some time. And I am fine. Or as fine as anyone can ever be in this world -- but I am me again.
While I do always try to keep one eye on the past, to learn and grow from the experiences I have lived through, my other eye is always trained on the future. Or as Kayla posted over at Setting the Stage: "What is your essence? My definition would be that ultimate state of mindfulness and exact focus on present activity, with simultaneous awareness of where you have come from, where you are, and where you hope to be." Or as Maurice Bishop once said: "Forward ever, backward never."
“All this is normal.”
Those were the very last words I read in Warren Ellis’ Trees before my phone buzzed and I learned my father was dead. I do not use the term passed away, or passed on, or slipped away, or gone to heaven -- those are all words that try to mask the finality of what actually is. My father is dead. He died in Deland, Florida -- he was over 70 years old and I hadn't spoken to him in years. I loved my father and I know my father loved me and my brother -- but we are a stubborn family that doesn't like to admit we are wrong and we push people away instead of reaching out to bring them back in.
I have reached that age where I am watching my friends go through the same stages of grief that I am going through. I am at the age where I worry about my mother, how she is and what she is doing - and I am at that age where I am powerless to stop the finality of life. I’m at that point on my own timeline where, as I inevitably slide to zero, that I wonder about my own mortality. My father had heart problems for years when I was a child due to a lifetime of smoking and eating unhealthy. After his second heart attack he wised up and began eating right. His smoking habit, though, was something he never kicked. “All this is normal.”
My father paid for his own cremation. I learned this the day after I learned he died. And that sent me into another tailspin of sorrow. I wish, oh I wish I wish I wish, that he had asked to be buried next to my grandmother in Pennsylvania, a woman I affectionately called yia-yia growing up, and one of the four people I loved the most on this earth. My yia-yia died when I was young -- too young to go to her funeral and so my mother left me with a neighbor while she and my father went to watch her be placed next to my grandfather - a man who died when my father was still a boy.
When I was a kid, my parents separated when I was around 7 or 8. The most enduring memory I have of that is crying at the door to our house begging my father not to leave and not understanding how another one of those four people I loved more than anything else in the world was leaving. After that I saw him sporadically. He would come into my life for several years and then disappear again - due to things not working out how he would imagine. I do not think this was his fault. I think a lifetime of growing up without a father and growing up underneath his brother, my uncle’s, shadow had a profound effect on him. It’s not that he was a bad father (though there were times I believed he was) - it is that I don’t think he knew how to be a good one.
“All this is normal.”
I deal with death differently than most people. I sit down and allow myself a good cry for as long as I need and then I compartmentalize it. I don’t think of it again -- I refuse to acknowledge it or think on it or feel anything else. I deal with a lot of things this way. I compartmentalize my feelings - probably far more than is healthy - but it works for me and I see no reason to stop. There are many reasons I deal with it this way. But the truth is that growing up deaf in a hearing world is an incredibly lonely experience and when there is never anyone close to you, you learn to deal with things on your own. I believe my father was the same way. When we fought we both simply just ended things by shutting each other out and refusing to acknowledge the problem. Sometimes this silence would last for years. The last time I spoke to him was in 2010. The last time I saw him was in 2004.
I wonder how my father died. I can’t shake the feeling he died alone -- sure, he had a caretaker he considered a friend with him, and her family too, and I am grateful for that. But I knew next to nothing about his life after he left Ohio for the South. Part of me wishes I was there but part of me is still angry that I had no way to contact him - after our last fight he changed his email address and I never heard from him again. I know beyond the shadow of doubt he loved me, but my father is a stubborn man who can’t admit he is wrong. So am I. I don’t even remember what our fight was about anymore - but I hate that I ended it on poor terms. I wonder if in the last moments of his life he felt the same. I know he thought enough of me and my brother to have us listed as next of kin and not my half-sister. “All this is normal.” I have a sister somewhere. Her name is Lori. Beyond that I know nothing of her. I believe she may be deaf as well, and I think she has a child. My father has not spoken to his daughter or his first wife in decades. I don’t know what happened to cause that rift either. Behind my father I see a trail of broken lines of communication - threads of friendship, family, and love that have been severed completely by someone who, simply, did not know any other way to deal with things when they became difficult. I believe my father was a lonely man, because there are times when I, too, am filled with a foreboding sense of isolation. My father and I are more alike than I care to admit sometimes. “All this is normal.”
My abiding memory of my father was him making me promise to not let what happened to him and his brother happen to me and mine. My uncle died without saying having said a word to my father in decades, though he and my mother were in touch. My uncle was a great man, to hear my father tell it -- he was an Olympian, a scholar, a war veteran, a author, a teacher, a philosopher - he was the kind of guy who would read calculus books for fun. But I never knew what caused the rift -- I never thought to ask. Growing up in the shadow a brother almost ten years older than you who accomplished so much couldn't have been easy. Growing up without a father and with a brother who was obviously the golden child of the family couldn't have been easy. Growing up deaf only made it worse.
I think about the good times I had with my dad, not the missed opportunities or the promises of taking my brother and myself to football and baseball games. I think about playing catch in the backyard, watching him cheer for me at little league games or the coaching he gave to me in middle school track. I think about how when I used to kiss him goodnight his thick mustache would bristle against my cheek when he reciprocated and how much it tickled and how much I laughed. I think about sitting on his lap as he watched the Browns lose yet again and how he explained the rules of football as best as he could to me or how I would watch him play a video game on one of those old Tandy personal computers.
“All this is normal.”
Those were the last words of a book I read right before my father died and I know that the struggle I am going through right now, the confusion, the loss, and the memories is normal. When I finally managed to get a hold of the funeral home through email begging for details, she called my brother and myself “survivors”. As if life was a great tragedy we have somehow survived. Maybe that is true. We have survived my father, both in time and in heartbreak. But I don’t like that word. It implies that we have moved on and have continued with our lives. For sure, this is what I will be doing - but there will be that struggle. I don’t like the word “mourners” either, when I see that I see images of Greek wailers, clad in black and keening a dirge for hour after hour. I don’t like condolences, and I don’t like prayers. I’m not saying I don’t appreciate the thought behind them, I just don’t have time for them. I can’t do anything with them. I can’t shape them into something productive or turn them into something I can use to make my life better. I don’t like sympathy or pity as they imply I am not strong enough to deal with things on my own. I don’t like sadness or grief as they are emotions defined by a quality of weakness - they aren't constructive emotions that can be used to make yourself better. And if there is one thing I learned from my father it is that when presented with an obstacle too difficult to climb you turn around a find a different way around it instead of throwing yourself futilely against the wall.
And yet despite my best efforts I feel terribly, inconsolably, irrefutably, unconditionally sad.
“All this is normal.”