Thursday, June 7, 2012
Continued from Time - Part 3
Last year on Father’s Day, I was resolute in my determination not to fall apart despite the fact that it was my first without my dad. I wanted to honor my husband, who is a spectacular father, and I wanted to be able to hold it together so that those around me would think I was improving in my ability to cope with my grief.
With the help of my teenaged daughters, the first part was easy, and it helped me to stay busy so that I could address the second part. In the middle of that afternoon, we decided to go over to my in-laws’ house to give my father-in-law (my husband’s stepfather) a Father’s Day card. We already had a gift for him but still needed a card to go with it, and so I asked my husband to stop at Walgreen’s and let me run in to get a card on the way to their house.
I entered the store through the sliding glass doors and went straight to the greeting card aisle. And that’s where I lost it. As I stood there unabashedly crying in front of the special section of Father’s Day cards, I could hear the sound of a ticking clock, even more loudly than I had been hearing it since my dad’s diagnosis, filling my head. My husband, realizing I had been in the store too long, came in and found me, pieced me together the best he could, and walked me back to the car. As we had done since my dad went on ahead five months earlier, we muddled through somehow, sad but putting one foot in front of the other because that’s what has to be done.
In the last year, I honestly don’t think my grief has gotten any better (no stupid NEW NORMAL for me!), but I do think it has changed. But one thing that hasn’t changed is the sound of that damn ticking clock. Or maybe it’s a timer on a bomb. Or one of those metronome things that used to drive me half-insane during the piano lessons I took as a child. Whatever it is, I hate it. I hate that I have that sound in my head; I hate that I have the knowledge that things won’t always be even as “ok” as they are right now. I hate that I often don’t feel safe, because in a single minute two Octobers ago, life as I knew it dropped off the edge of a cliff, and everything I believed in was called into question. When things became unbalanced, when I lost control – wait, correction, when I learned that there really is no control to be had over anything in life except maybe our perspective.
And sometimes even controlling that is not entirely possible to do, especially for me now with that noise in my head and the knowledge that I needed more time with my dad! Time while he was healthy, time to take care of him while he was sick. Time to figure out ways to ensure that each new day would be one that he would look forward to because of the joy it could bring, rather than one to dread or to fear or even just to tolerate. I wanted him to be able to close his eyes and smile peacefully, but he didn’t close his eyes very often and when he did, he wore more of a grimace or at least a look of worry. As much as fucking cancer stole my dad, it also stole my chance to have enough time to make his last bit of time not just bearable but joyful for him – he didn’t get the cherry on top and for that I will always be resentful and remorseful.
And that’s the tough thing about grief: in the process, we are forced to learn to live without givens, in the midst of chaos and with the sadness and the anger mixed in. We have to learn to focus on the good while at the same time knowing that doing so won’t make up for what happened or quiet the ticking noise or bring meaning to our loss. As we flail and struggle and fight over what happened and about what needs to be done in light of it going forward, may we not forget the sustaining beauty that exists in every moment we are privileged to live on this earth. Even the dark ones.
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary. I want to put a ding in the universe." ~Steve Jobs
Wednesday, June 6, 2012
Continued from Time - Part 2
Below is a trailer from a movie called “In Time” that came out last fall about a world in which time replaces money for currency and each person’s skin is marked with the amount of time they have left on this Earth. I didn't see the movie (I think it actually bombed in theaters), but I find the concept of knowing how much time you have left to be thought-provoking. It makes me wonder … How would you spend your time, if you knew how much of it you had left? Would such a thing result in people being more purposeful or more selfish? I'm not at all sure how that knowledge would that impact my own perspective.
Since the day of my dad’s diagnosis, I have thought a lot about the concept of time. I constantly feel like I don’t have enough of it, just like Dad didn’t. I’m not sure if that is a normal part of grief; I just know it’s a thought that pops into my head on a regular basis and it’s pretty disturbing.
As far back as I can remember, my dad hated to be late. Maybe it was tied to competitiveness or maybe that’s why he was such a talented athlete; he frequently strategized about improving his race time and was always so relieved when he achieved his “time goal” in a race.
Just a few days after Dad went on ahead, my mom asked my husband to get Dad’s car ready to be sold. I remember thinking at the time that I didn’t understand what the rush was; I wasn’t particularly attached to his car but was horrified at the idea that Mom might start getting rid of Dad’s stuff that soon. When I asked her about her reasoning, what she said almost brought me to my knees in grief and sorrow: because Dad was frequently out of town during the week traveling on business, she said she was used to his car not being in the driveway most of the time and that if the car wasn’t there, she hoped she could just pretend that he was away on a business trip instead of gone forever.
With that, we all agreed it was fine for her to sell the car. As my husband was cleaning it out, he came across several things that brought a smile to my lips and tears to my eye at the same time: a huge bottle of Advil (always trying to ward away the soreness from a hard workout), several pads of sticky notes (which had really excited Dad when they first came out around 1980), tons of change (which he tended to stash everywhere), and – the icing on the cake – a mini-tape recorder on which he recorded messages to himself while he was driving.
I remember when those little recorders first came out on the market many years ago when I was a teenager; Dad was so excited to get one as he said that was he could just let it record while he talked to himself as he drove. He continued this practice in the current day, especially on long drives during which he would plan and make lists of things he wanted to remember or needed to do later.
My husband, my siblings, my mom, and I stood in the cold of my parents’ garage that day, and I pushed the Play button on the recorder. Dad’s voice, salve for our wounds that stung but was comforting at the same time. It was oddly heartening to listen to the flurry of segmented messages he had recorded for himself in brief stints. Many things he said were related to his job: reminders to call customers, things to put in his next presentation, info about the grain trade market. Some were of a personal nature, including one that stood out to us: He said, “Time myself walking a mile; maybe go to the track.” I knew the background on this statement for him was that he wanted to calculate his projected time for completing the marathon portion of the upcoming Ironman triathlon including any potential walk-breaks he might need to take along the way. But, given what had happened since he had made that recording, his reference to time seemed so prophetic, so profound. I know he didn’t have any idea that his time was very limited when he said those words, but, listening to them in the cold grayness of the garage that day and missing his so much already, I felt like I had been stabbed in the heart.
More about my perspective: Time - Part 4