I started to write this almost a week ago, but have been too busy and too interrupted to complete it. So here you have it "as is," unfinished, unpolished, and with no warranty expressed or implied.
It's funny how similar events can strike you differently.
Three weeks ago today, on February 1, 2008, my dad failed to show up for our standing lunch date, and I subsequently found him in his bed, so peaceful-looking that I half-expected him to start awake, as he would when I was a kid and would creep into his room while he slept.
And I find only now can I write about it--and him--a little. When my mom died in 2003, it seemed I needed to write about it right away. Indeed, I was a little annoyed that there was so much "stuff" to deal with that I had scant time to do so.
Then, too, when Mom died, most of my writing was personal, for my own therapy or shared with, primarily, family. I don't recall having written anything here, though I haven't gone back to check.
Anyhow, it's funny.
And I don't know why it's been hard to write about it this time and not the previous time. Maybe because my mom had been ailing, and in fact had passed a couple of points earlier in the year where we, or at least I, thought she was done for. So it was still a shock, but not so much of a surprise. In Dad's case, it was both. He had been fighting some bronchitis-like symptoms for some weeks, but there was nothing that would cause one to think that any crisis point was looming. Even his doctor, who is also my doctor, was stunned by the turn of events.
My dad's death serves to underscore for me something that I have felt for some time: I don't understand death. I don't get it at all. This is nothing new: Even as a kid, it made no sense to me that a person could one minute be up and about, hale and hearty, and then the next minute be dead. Certainly, it makes sense that a bad accident would kill someone, or that an overdose of druges would do someone in, or drowning--extreme stuff like that. But the thought that a person can go to bed and not get up in the morning (as was the case, in the end, with both my parents), or, as has happened with a couple of friends over the years, get up out of a chair to go do something and keel over dead--well, that's just ludicrous. That makes no sense. "Oh, he had a heart attack"; "Well, he had a stroke"; "It was an aneurysm"--this is supposed to make sense? Well, it doesn't! I know that people drop dead all the time...but it just doesn't seem that they should. You might just as well say, "Oh, well, buildings fall down all the time." NO, THEY DON'T! Buildings stay up, barring disaster. Why shouldn't we?
It appears now too that I am past the time when Society thinks I should still be reeling from the loss of my last parent. Well, Society can go to hell, as far as that goes. I think it's pretty damn inconsiderate for the world to keep turning at a time like this, if you must know. There's so much to be done--a thousand details, ten thousand moving parts--and yet my whopping great three days' Bereavement Leave are all gone, and I am expected to pretend that the crap that piled up on my desk while I was burying my father has any significance. As was the case when Mom died--and when I had a LOT less to do, since my Dad was, naturally, point man on all her affairs, and nor was there an estate to settle--it seems to me that Bereavement Leave would best come right about now, when the funeral hubbub has died down (bad choice of words, that) and a guy could use some time to process, let alone mourn. But Society seems to think that three days should about do the job, and how come you're still not all caught up from that week you were gone to lay your father to rest? (I took some vacation days, too. Three days--bah!)
I am quite astonished by the number of times these past three weeks that something amusing, aggravating, or just plain strange has occurred, and I have found myself mentally filing it away for recounting to Dad at our next luncheon. That, I presume, will be some time in the future. I also presume he will, as usual, insist on picking up the tab.
Not surprisingly, I think, and not for the first time, I find I have spent a goodly amount of hours lately contemplating life, death, and eternity. I am no theologian, of course, and indeed a great many of my views border on heresy. But for the most part I do believe in some kind of Creator, and I usually believe that there is some kind of continuation past this life. Heaven? Maybe--I have absolutely no idea, and I think anyone who says otherwise is delusional. But while I freely, even cheerfully acknowledge the possibility that this mortal coil is all there is, and that when we leave it we simply blink out of existence, that strikes me as wasteful. And I consider the universe to be a pretty frugal place. So the waste of our lives, ideas, experience simply CEASING when we die is counterintuitive. Makes more sense to me to think that SOMETHING happens after death...floating among the clouds strumming lyres, if you like, but SOMETHING. Something has to happen to that energy that is US. We continue in another form. We continue without form. We integrate into some cosmic wholeness. Whatever. That seems less a leap than to think it all just evaporates.
On the other hand, if it all does just evaporate--if we live and then we die and there is no more after that--well, that doesn't strike me as the worst thing, either. And how would we ever know the difference?
Of course, it is very comforting to think that my parents are now reunited in some otherly plane of existence...that they are there with their own parents, and with friends and loved ones who have gone before. Just as it is pleasant to think that I too will someday join them. But "pleasant" and "fact" are not synonyms, just as "belief" and "fact" are not.
This much I do know: If the measure of our "success" as human beings is in the impact we have made on the people we encounter in our lives (as I believe it is), then my father was a very successful man indeed. There is no way I could begin to keep track of the number of people--many of them known to me, many not--who have stopped me these past three weeks to tell me how much they'll miss my dad, how important he was to them, how helpful and supportive. It's certainly not hard for me to believe, for those sentiments sum up my father pretty completely. But I'm not sure I fully appreciated the scope of his impact on others' lives. It's really quite impressive.