I bought a memory journal so that I can have a place to write down things I want to remember about my father. I haven’t written in it yet, but I hope to soon.
Emily has written 17 entries about this goal
I flew home for a week to sell what I wasn’t ready to let go of last year, what I’ve been paying to store since the end of 2009. It’s clear to me now that I haven’t dealt with a lot of things.
When Dad was in the hospital, I was just chugging through. Writing down his pills for him and asking doctors questions. Planning the funeral as efficiently as possible. Closing his credit cards, canceling his subscriptions.
Then there was the house. I packed it up, little by little. It took a month. An entire month of working day by day, room by room, box by box. I got rid of some things that were obviously junk, but I couldn’t let go of much. Then I put it all in storage and didn’t have to think about it. Then I moved to Raleigh. Then I got married.
There wasn’t time to grieve, in a way, or there was but there were also plenty of things to distract me from it.
But I thought I was okay. It’s been almost a year and a half. So imagine my surprise when I came home to deal with his things this week and I find myself filled with sorrow.
I burst into tears at the sight of his tools, all stacked up on utility shelves, his life’s work in a way. He was an electrician for twenty-six years and he knew how to fix a lot of other things, too. He was always painting or installing curtain rods or doing little tasks for the neighbors. Those tools are an extension of his hands. They were with him every day. Some of them still have dirt and grease on them. His hands were always dirty after he came home from work. He used to have this orange paste that smelled so good and would take everything right off. Even most of the stuff under his short fingernails, although there was always enough left that you could tell, if you were paying attention.
For a long time, it has just felt like he’s at sea. It’s the way I’ve thought about it. You know how people used to take long sea voyages? Men in particular? And you couldn’t call them or write them and you weren’t sure when you were going to see them next, but you knew they were out there. That’s how it’s felt, like he’s going to come home any day. Like I shouldn’t give away his clothes or his tools because he’ll need them when he comes back.
For the longest time I was focused on getting to the first anniversary of my father’s death. I thought once I got there something magical would happen. Some kind of insta-heal.
And around the anniversary of his death I felt mostly okay. I felt good, even, knowing how far I’d come in a year.
But lately I’ve found myself missing him more and more. I think about him more. And it hurts. It’s sorrow. I wonder if I was in survival mode last year. I don’t know what I have to face this year, but I’m just trying to be open to all of my feelings.
I thought about crossing this goal off my list once I got through the first anniversary last week, but I’ve had a lot of feelings come bubbling up lately and I don’t think my work is done.
I’m thinking about joining a grief support group. Or maybe going into grief counseling. We’ll see.
I’ve been warned by several people that significant dates can be troubling.
The first week of November is my father’s birthday. He would have been 56.
The third week of November is the day he died. A few days later is Thanksgiving.
I don’t know if it’s because I’m psyching myself up or because the time of year really has an effect on my feelings, but I can feel little storm clouds gathering. It feels as though I may be swallowed up, not yet, but soon. There’s potential. I’m scared.
A big part of my father’s identity was music.When he died, he left over 20 stringed instruments. Mostly guitars, a couple of basses, two ukes, and a banjo. Of course, since he was unmarried and I’m an only child, the care of these instruments was left to me, just like everything else was.
I’ve been paying every month to keep all of his things in a storage space. It’s been draining me financially. I’ve been using some of the life insurance money to pay for the space because I have no other source of income and I can’t imagine having to give up his things.
I flew into town for Labor Day weekend to try to pare down the storage space and see if I could move to a smaller one so I could pay less rent. Part of that was taking the guitars to get appraised.
I had sixteen informally appraised. I had to put the guitars in my mother’s car, we drove to a guitar shop that, once I got inside, I realized I’d spent time in with my Dad before. It’s actually where I bought my guitar strap after I got an acoustic model for Christmas.
Anyway, everything was appraised, then I casually asked if there was anything that the store was interested in buying, and they said yes, and the one they said yes to meant that I could pay the storage space and my cell phone bill for a month without dipping into my savings so in a snap decision, I went for it.
It wasn’t until later that I realized I didn’t have a picture of the guitar. I had to Google it from the appraisal list to even realize what I sold. I feel like my Dad might have been a little disappointed about how quickly I traded something he loved for the practicality of paying utilities for a month.
But, really, it’s just one guitar. I’ve given two to my cousin, I’m keeping my Christmas present one and a bass that my Dad used to play in high school. I still have lots of instruments to figure out what to do with. More than I need.
I’m not sure what I’m trying to say here. I guess what I’m struggling with is the sentimental attachment to all of his things and the tension of that against my current financial situation. I can’t keep everything in storage forever. There is a theoretical limit. But now that I regret selling something so quickly, I feel a little gunshy about selling anything else.
I miss Dad so much every day. Maybe not every day straight through, but there are moments, and they still hurt. I thought it would be over by now. I suppose that’s unrealistic. It still hasn’t been a year.
I’m further along in grieving for him, although the sight of frozen entrees (the Budget Gourmet to be specific) in the grocery store or the Star Spangled Banner playing on the Bellagio fountains are still enough to make me spontaneously burst out into tears.
I pulled up photos of him today because I was making prints of family for my bedroom wall. I looked at the last picture I took of him in his hospital bed and I couldn’t look away. I could remember that moment so clearly, asking to take the photo and being amazed that he wasn’t protesting. He was looking right at me and only me, and now looking at that photo I can still feel the connection with him.
It was hard to look at it because he looks so old and sick. I don’t think I realized it at the time. Denial maybe? But now when I look at it, I can tell he’s dying. His hair is grayer. There are circles under his eyes. He has stubble because the blood thinners meant he couldn’t shave.
It was hard to look at the photo, but it was hard to look away. I felt like I was in his hospital room with him again, and with that came all the good and bad emotions I had at the time. Hope that he would get better, gratefulness that he was still alive, and fear about what would happen next.
There’s still a lot to sort through, but it’s getting easier.
A close friend of my father’s lost his wife two years before my father died. (Almost to the day, actually.)
When I occasionally check in with him, he says that he thinks of my father and of his wife every day. In the last couple of years, he has lost a great deal of weight. He tries to act cheery, but he has a lot of bitterness; it pops out in unexpected places. He’s become an unhappy person, and seems determined to stay that way.
I was afraid that the anger I had over losing my father so young would define me, or hold me back, but I see now that that’s entirely within my control. And I’m taking steps forward in building a new life. I moved to a new city. I got married! Soon I will let go of more of my father’s material possessions.
I will be okay, if I want to be.
Last year, Dad rented a car and drove us to my Nana’s. He gave me a driving lesson because we showed up and they weren’t home and we had time to kill. I drove on back country roads and he was so patient that it made it easy. He was so Zen sometimes.
On the way there, he bought a case of Mexican Coca-Cola, the kind with sugar instead of corn syrup. A whole case of it, at a gas station, just on a whim. Just because he knew we would enjoy them all weekend.
At night we went to see fireworks. Nana came with us, but no one else did, and I wonder if they regret that now, or even remember it. We drove but we left so late we couldn’t find a parking space, and we were circling the park, but just as they started, we found a place to pull over and we watched them through window. It was the first time I remember watching fireworks with my Nana, and the last time the three of us were together.
What’s hard now is knowing that my father probably had cancer by this point. He had a bad cough that I didn’t say anything about because I knew he wouldn’t see a doctor. Nana told me later that she knew something was wrong because he wasn’t eating like he used to. When I came back in August for a doctor’s appointment, I saw my father for dinner and that’s about it. The cough was still there.
But somehow, that isn’t as important as I thought it would be. My father loved his country, and he loved taking me to see the fireworks at Hermann Park. July 4th was always our holiday. It’s a nice time to remember him.
I don’t dream about my Dad a lot, but when I do, I always know he has cancer and it’s too late to do anything about it.
Last night I had a very vivid, scary, weird dream.
We were in a parking lot, getting out of the car, headed to a restaurant, I think. The car was hit when we were on the sidewalk. It slid across the entire parking lot, crashed into a window and set fire.
Next thing I knew we were in an insurance office and I had to fill out a booklet with the girl who hit me. I was in a back room and I didn’t want to be there because I knew Dad was in trouble. Somehow, even though we weren’t in the car, he’d still been hurt.
The booklet was full of all these weird psychological quesitons that seemingly had nothing to do with the accident. (“Describe yourself as a child. Define the following word: carnation. Here are some common excuses for getting into a car accident. Write statements taking responsibility for each.) I thought they were trying to assign blame to one of us based on our answers.
I kept trying to leave, but the woman wouldn’t let me. I went into the waiting room to check on Dad and he was lying down, asleep, on a yellow couch. At some point, another insurance agent who somehow knew Dad came into the room and told me it was time to go to the hospital. Dad was dying.
I started sobbing in the dream, the way I did the night he died, and woke up gasping for air.
I was so, so relieved when I realized that I was awake and I didn’t have to go through that, having to watch Dad die by the side of a hospital bed, because I already had. It was such a strange feeling.