Here is a thing I do
a thing I did
fourteen years after you have died:
"When Daddy comes back,
I'll tell him about this."
It's not a thought as clear
It's more of a ripple through my subconscious
a slippery brim iridescent in the full sunlight,
and it wiggles out of my hands before I can see it too clearly.
Afterward, I am only left with an impression of a fish
and wet hands.
But I know it was there.
I know my cells thought that thing.
"When Daddy comes back,
I'll tell him about this."
If you did reappear
suddenly walking back in
your key in the lock of the back door at Mama's house,
would you call out her name?
(Never mind that the lock has been changed since 2002.
We are after all suspending disbelief.)
Would you like the Pergo we used to cover up the orange and brown linoleum?
Would you laugh at the door to nowhere in the wall?
Would you be surprised to find that those day lilies you planted just before you died come up
hundreds of blooms waving in a front yard remembrance of you
over a decade after we've last seen your face.
What would you say meeting my husband for the very first time,
this man who has been beside me for good and bad times you haven't seen
this man who married me on your farm
with your pond in the background
with your grave 20 minutes down the road
this man who walked beside me down the aisle
and stepped aside
while another man danced with me in a red tie because you couldn't.
I believe that you would say I chose well
(and I get to believe that
and you can't say otherwise).
I wonder how your face would look
at seeing my daughter who has your lips
at four years old
makes me think of you in some moments
the way she likes to be at home
the way she disarms us when we're mad
the way she thinks thinks thinks before she speaks.
I can see you showing up
cooking up a scheme with her
with all these grandchildren you have not held or hugged
fitting right back in
right back into this family that has changed so much since you were gone
this family that still has a you-shaped piece missing.
I would sit with you across the counter and I would want to tell you about
the four places I have lived since the plays we made the hard decisions the things I'm confused about the fights we've had the farm the smart things the brave things Mama has done the funny stories the wedding the birth the truck the family the friends the broken nose the broken ribs the choices the joys the losses the realizations the daughter the daughter the daughter
so that I could watch your face hear you grunt see your eyebrows raise
I miss your response.
sitting on your lap or beside you against you leaning and
I am monitoring my heart
beating in its workaround way.
And I am more amazed than ever at its tenacity.
I am here now
where your body was buried
and I am touching the marker with Mama's well-chosen words
and I am laying on the grass above where we put your body.
If I could,
I would hug your bones.
. . .
When my dad died, I knew so few people my age whose parents had died that when I met someone else who had experienced that particular loss, there was a specific and rare moment of recognition and understanding. Now that I'm older, it's beginning to happen more often. Recently, two dear friends have joined what my husband and I irreverently refer to as "the dead dads club."
When I think of the long haul--the years upon years--of missing someone so foundational to your life (if you're lucky, as I was), I offer this:
You can make your own holiday. For me, it's October 17, the day my daddy died, and I never work on that day.
I spend this personal holiday--now known in our little family as Granddaddy Ron Day--doing things that celebrate him: eating at his favorite breakfast spot, going to our farm, calling a few special people, or hanging out at my growing-up house with my mama. And telling stories with my family so that my daughter and husband can hear them, so that I can remember them. My siblings and I all choose to mark this day, and though we don't always get together on October 17 (ah, family schedules!), we do our storytelling/joking/reminding over email or text. Sometimes I feel happy about the day, sometimes I feel like shit. Even now, fourteen years later.
My details aren't really the point, though. For some people, a celebration on the anniversary of someone's death doesn't work. Or it's not an option to take the day off work. Or a solo day would feel better than a day spent with other people.
Whatever it looks like, I want to tell you that you are allowed to set aside some time in some way every year to celebrate someone you love(d). It doesn't mean you're stuck in the past; it can be a way of moving forward.
For a long time, I was oddly embarrassed to tell people why I wouldn't be at the office, wasn't scheduling rehearsal for that evening, or couldn't meet that day. In recent years, though, I've been up front about it, and I've learned that Granddaddy Ron Day has another benefit:
It's a kind of self-care that is strong modeling as you lead in your work life, your creative life, and your family life.
. . .
"The sister whose hand I am clutching in the picture is dead. I wonder every day whether she still exists . . . .
A person whom one has loved seems altogether too significant a thing to simply vanish altogether from the world. A person whom one loves is a world, just as one knows oneself to be a world. How can worlds like these simply cease altogether? But if my sister does exist, then what is she, and what makes that thing that she now is identical with the beautiful girl laughing at her little sister on that forgotten day? Can she remember that summer’s day while I cannot?"
--Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity by Rebecca Goldstein, as quoted in The Mystery of Personal Identity: What Makes You and Your Childhood Self the Same Person Despite a Lifetime of Change on Maria Popova's www.brainpickings.org