My therapist kept asking me “So when are you going to deal with your dad’s death?” He is a father of similar age to mine and with grey hair and glasses that could have even been worn by my dad. Annoyed I said, “Sheldon, I’m not ready. It has only been a month ok!” I am still numb. I don’t want to look at pictures of my father. I think because I am afraid of what I will feel and at times even more afraid of what I won’t feel. When his face comes into my mind’s eye I quickly push it away. Picturing his face feels like staring at the sun – too much to handle and some how not good for me. Avoidance is the way for me to cope right now. Tears don’t come, anger doesn’t rise and sadness is fleeting. Denial feels like a warm blanket I can wrap tightly around me, it keeps my feelings in and also protects me from the feelings of those closest to me especially my kids.
My children had really only known my father as an ill man. They only knew him in a physically weak state. So very different then the memories that come to my mind of the strong man that could do just about anything. They didn’t have to watch as the diabetes that had been diagnosed in the early 90’s slowly and systematically stole pieces of his freedom; from his inability to walk to literally having toes and fingers amputated because of poor blood flow. His kidneys finally failed in 2004 as predicted years earlier by many doctors. They told him that if he didn’t start losing weight and begin exercising and only controlled his diabetes through insulin this was the only road ahead. So his map, which included too many fast-food restaurants and too much sugar, lead straight to kidney dialysis.
In between the many operations and concerns about falling due to neuropathy in his feet, all three of his daughters tried unsuccessfully to convince him to get healthy. Letters were written to him pleading to take better care of himself for the sake of his grandkids. Countless tears were shed and eyes were dramatically rolled as he popped candy into his diabetic mouth. Since my early 20’s I had been saying goodbye to my dad knowing that our time together was limited. Sadness, anger and fear became commonplace for me. Any call from my mother’s phone after 11:00pm would make my heart stop.
So when my dad died I thought I was prepared. Michael and I had also tried to prepare our kids for his death over the past couple of years. We talked openly about how Papa was sick and that his heart was tired and that he rode around in a cart because his legs didn’t work. Nothing prepares you for the death of a parent – nothing. My son was my father’s only grandson. He looks just like him, has his quick temper and his competitive streak. To be honest, this was always more important to me than it ever was to my father. I made it special for my son because I wanted it to be a source of strength for him to carry with him through his life. My wish is for Asher to feel unique and special because that is the truth. Whether acknowledged or not it is the reality.
When we told Asher that Papa had died he burst into tears and said, “He taught me chess and now I will never play chess with him again.” Through sobbing tears and gasps of air he felt enough pain and loss for everyone in our family. Tova’s reaction was stunned silence. Her second reaction was concern for her big brother. Oh and anger came third. After hearing the news she stomped into her room and grabbed her piggy pillow. Yes it is a pig and a pillow. For those of you who are parents with kids under the age of 8 you know what I am talking about. It’s a pillow— it’s a pet— It’s a pillow pet! If you sang the tune then I am sure you too have spent $15.99 for this item. Anyway, she beat the living shit out of piggy pillow until she was exhausted which was about 2 1/2 minutes of straight punching right in front of all three us. Tova then burst into tears and ran into Michael’s arms, burying her head to hide her tears.
It was a month or so after my dad’s death and I am lying down with Asher as he is falling asleep. He begins to cry softly and says that he wishes papa hadn’t died and why couldn’t Uncle Gary die. He wanted to trade anyone he was less attached to in our family for my dad to be able to come back. This is the “bargaining” stage of grief and has nothing to do with liking or not liking my father’s brother. Sorry Uncle Gary if you read this!
As Asher is crying I realize that I haven’t cried at all since his funeral. Maybe this is why my therapist won’t get off my back about dealing with the loss of my Dad. The room is dark with just the yellowish glow of light peeking through Asher’s closet door to keep the boogieman away. I softly say, “Ash, Papa loved you so much. He is so proud of you and would want you to remember the happy times you had together even though he is gone and it hurts so much.” He just kept crying and saying, “but why mom, why did he have to die?”
“We hurt because we cared so much about Papa. You know Asher it has been hard for mommy to even cry and I think you are so brave to feel all of your feelings and just let them out. ” His room was quiet except for the random snot filled sniffle coming from his side of the bed. After a few minutes he said, “Mom I need a cup.” “Ash why do you need a cup? We’re in bed almost asleep.” He says emphatically, “With a lid.” I roll over and put my arm in snuggle position around his upper body. “What?” I say groggy and confused. He continues, “Mom, seriously, I need a cup to catch all my tears. We can put it into the freezer to keep it safe… every time I cry about stuff that matters to me I will catch my tears in that cup and when I die you, dad and Tova will be able to open my cup of tears and know what really mattered to me.”
Now I am stunned silent. Tears finally begin roll down my face.