“Well, this isn’t how I thought it was going to go.” Cian said this to me the week before last. He was lying in bed beside me, and the clock said it was about four a.m. He’d been up since the middle of the night …
In the evening after the first day of school, Cian made an announcement. “I’m going to be very well-behaved this year.” He stopped and took a look around the table at each of us. A brief look of self-doubt passed over his face. “Well,” he …
On Easter Sunday we marked the ninth anniversary of my dad’s death (pancreatic cancer doesn’t spare the loving). We joined the family for Easter mass, as always, and we had Easter dinner, as always. The day was filled with its own dramas, its own troubles big and small, as they so often pop up, holiday or not. My brother and I talked about it briefly when he called from the home he shares with his wife in Wisconsin. Something about the symbolism of the Easter anniversary. The depressing aspect that yep, Dad’s still dead (because despite nine years you still wonder sometimes if it’s just a bad dream you’ve yet to shake off). Jesus is risen, but Dad’s still gone.
David’s dad’s anniversary was a couple weeks ago (I’ve said it before: April is super fun around here), and we hadn’t commemorated it “officially”–between David’s travels for work, and then life, it hadn’t happened. Yesterday we remembered Dad and Tom with a quick toast and moved on to the ham, because what else do you do, I guess? The day was jumbled. An anniversary of a parent lost is biggest for their spouses, for the children. But for each of us, all of us, the day still moves forward despite its meaning, as ordinary as the one before it.
I was in the car last week with the children, on our way home from school. One of the girls–Quinlan, probably, because it’s usually Quinlan with the big questions–asked me something about my dad. I forget what it was, but she asked me, “Does it get any better?” She meant the missing him, of course. And the answer came out without my having to consider the question: “No, baby, it doesn’t,” I said. “I don’t cry as much, but I still miss him as much today as I did the very first day.”
It was an honest answer. I think about that sometimes: how humans manage to move forward, sunrise to sunset, over and over again, despite the weight of their sorrows that grow like a scab over a wound. Sometimes the scab tears away, and the pain is intense and surprising. But always, the scab is there. Always, the wound. We keep trudging forward, carrying them, because what else are we to do?
I miss him as much today as I did the first day. I sometimes dream of him looking at me, smiling, through an open doorframe (he’s always on the other side of a doorway). He grins at me from the outside to in, so close to see but too far to touch. My mom, her husband. My brother and I, our dad. David and his brother, theirs. Easter rising, but a day that breaks and closes like every other.
I had about five ideas for posts that were about funny things, cute things (Quinlan said to me the other day, “Your boots are UGLY.” And then she must’ve seen the look on my face, and added, “I didn’t say your body was ugly. You are non-ugly.”). But the last couple of days, when I’ve been rocking Cian in his room before bedtime (the child is almost two and still likes to be held before he goes to sleep. Isn’t that awesome?), I’ve found myself in tears like a weirdo, silently sniffling, hoping nobody walks in and notices (and here I go telling you about it. Swift, Leah). See, here’s the thing. I had what I’m fairly certain was an anxiety attack in the car the other night, just driving with the girls in the back seat, preoccupied and worried and scared because I always feel like I’m drowning. Some of you know the drill: heart racing, chest tightening, feeling like I couldn’t breathe. It was fun. Santa Stress, you’ve succeeded.
But there I was, last night, rocking Cian, and thinking about my dad. He’s been gone almost seven years, and yet I sat there, in the glider we’ve had since Saoirse was born, having this surreal moment of disbelief. He can’t be dead, I thought. He can’t be. How can he have missed so much? Look at this, for starters:
Dave’s new job. Our almost-relocation to Connecticut, and last-minute decision to stay here. Our marriage that is so much better and happier and easier than it was when he witnessed it in its fledgling, learning stages.
A novel, written by me. Then an agent. And now a publisher. I can’t even begin to guess what he’d say about that.
Two more grandchildren, each as hilarious as the first one. The older granddaughter he knew as a newborn, now reading chapter books to us like she’s been doing it for years.
A new house. One with a real garage and sensible paint colors and a living room you don’t have to wrap yourself in a blanket to keep warm in.
The marriage of my brother, finally, to a woman Dad knew years ago, finally. His relocation to a place that specializes in bratwurst and cheese, lakes and snow. Dad would’ve liked his visits there. Especially the bratwurst part.
The death of Dave’s dad. The remarriage of Dave’s mom.
The slow demise of my long-held vegetarianism, and all the meals that have risen out of its ashes: stews, chilis, soups. Dad would’ve loved the way I cook for my family now. He’d laugh that I don’t mind it, and that I talk a lot less now about gender roles and the patriarchy and the inherent sexism of societal standards as I’m chopping onions for people I love.
Luca, our husky, turning into an old man. He’s the dog that made me a begrudging dog person, the dog that adored my dad. He’s hanging in there, but uneasily. How odd that he’s still with us, but my father is not.
I used to love this time of year. Cookies and lights and music and love. All of that. It’s still there, but muddled in behind the shopping lists and emails, expectations and budgets. I found a picture recently that David had taken of me in the townhouse we’d rented when we first moved up to PA, before the mortgage and kids and decision to go to one income in a two-income world. I was sitting on the couch handed down to us by my aunt and uncle, surrounded by shopping bags, with a pen in one hand and a list in the other. I was grinning at Dave–I had this big ol’ smile on my face, my posture was relaxed. We’d probably go out for Mexican food that night. I probably had papers to grade later that afternoon. We’d most likely slept in that morning, because back then there was no rush to get out of bed. The gifts I see in the picture had all been hand-purchased, where I could see them and feel them and pay attention to price tags. I didn’t shop online then. There’s a thought for you.
My dad has missed so much. And I can’t help but use his death as a marker in time, a sort of ruler by which to measure my life. I feel like I’m so, so much happier now than I was back then. That anxiety attack I had? That’s the first time I’ve felt like that in probably ten or fifteen years. I feel like a different person than I was when Dad was here. But if he were here, what would he see? What would he notice? Would he see the happiness, and the gratitude, or would that be hidden by complaints, by hurried visits, by days slipping by because, with three little ones and a husband who travels and big responsibilities now outside of the cooking and dishes and child-raising, I haven’t yet learned how to live them?
I used to need to feel like I was in control of everything. I now realize I have no control over anything at all, but the panic of old habits is still there. Maybe in another seven years of missing my dad, I’ll finally complete that 180-degree shift. Hopefully.
But I’m not sure I’m ready to be fourteen years out from him being here. I’m still not quite believing in seven.