Wednesday, December 26, 2012
In Search of Comfort
In the hours, days, weeks, and months after my dad went on ahead, I became aware of a phenomenon that I hadn't ever been in a position to notice before, and that was one of feeling as if I myself were the source of pain each time I had to tell someone else that my dad had gotten sick and that he didn't make it. I felt guilty and somehow responsible for the shock and the sadness that I witnessed descending upon each person as soon as the words left my mouth. I felt as if I should be able to comfort them. I wished I could spare them having to know what had happened and I wished I could explain why, but I couldn't do either. Instead, I had to stand by and witness their pain, their sadness, and their grief, while I was deep in the midst of those feeling on my own.
If I'd had to guess before I had any inside knowledge of one who has lost a loved one, I would have said that the worst would be when someone didn't know what had happened and I had to tell them. But what I discovered was that the hardest thing to get through was when I knew someone knew how sick my dad was or even knew he had died but then they said nothing to me afterwards. It felt like they didn't care, like it didn't matter to anyone except those of us who were so deep in our grief that we could barely function. It was like salt in a wound; it was like watching and not be able to stop the waves from washing up on the shore and wiping out a one-of-a-kind sand castle in the process.
About six weeks after Dad went on ahead, my husband, my mom, and I attended a business convention that my dad had been a big part of for decades. Everyone at the convention knew (had known? Damn I hate having to change that verb tense) my dad; he had known many of the people who were there since I was a child or longer and had served as a mentor for many of them over the years.
The last time any of those people had seen my dad was one year ago, ten months before he died and eight months before he got sick. They still thought of him as being the picture of good health; he was the guy who was the life of the party, working the crowd and cutting up on the dance floor at night and then heading up a meeting after an early morning run the next day. People asked what had happened, and I didn't know how to respond. I could hardly have finished processing the series of events over the ten weeks. Most of the people there had heard about Dad's illness and his death, but it was like they couldn't process it or accept it until they showed up at the convention and saw that he wasn't there for the first time in decades. His absence was blaring, to put it mildly. In the midst of their shock and in what I guess was an awkward attempt to process the news themselves, several people told stories about other people they knew who had gotten some serious kind of cancer and had survived. That didn't make me feel any better, and I don't think it served that purpose for them, either; actually, I think it only fueled their sense of disbelief. We heard a lot of "I'm sorry's" but it seemed like mostly what was said was "I just can't believe it." Yep, me neither, I said. What I guess I wanted them to say was that sucks and I'll miss him too. I wished they had something that would comfort me and my family; I wished I had something that could comfort them - or myself. But there was no protection, and there was no comfort to be had.