Last January 1st, I wrote the piece that follows this introduction to try to quiet the noise in my head after my father’s death just a few weeks earlier.
Last spring, writing after the death of his own father, Rabbi Brian related a tale about native porters going a great distance the first day of a long trek. And I paraphrase . . .
The portee was delighted with the tremendous progress, only to find that the next day the porters refused to budge from camp. Puzzled by the discrepancy in effort on the two days, he asked what the heck was going on. “We travelled too fast yesterday,” the porters said, “and so we must wait here for our souls to catch up.”
In matters of the heart, it can be hard to see progress, or even change, day by day. This window into myself as I was this time last year lets me see that today, exactly one year after my father’s death, my soul is catching up. May it be so for all of us.
Yesterday was the first day that I deliberately did not tell someone that my father had just died.
It’s been two weeks and two days since I saw him breathe his last: his death is still pretty much top-of-mind awareness for me. My thoughts jump unpredictably — the ups and downs of his last few weeks in the hospital jostle with the transfer to hospice, his final evening, the flurry of memorial service arrangements, and events from his 88-year life as viewed by me for all but 30 of those years.
It’s been two weeks and two days since I saw him breathe his last: his death is still pretty much centre-of-heart impact for me. My feelings dance jerkily — warm memories sashay uncomfortably with regret for old conflicts, gratitude that someone was with him, guilt that being that someone wasn’t enough to change the outcome, amusement at things that would have irritated or amused him not so very long ago, and a mild unease at something undefined being absent from the Christmas celebrations just completed — someone, as it turns out.
The thinking-and-feeling programming varies, but the selected channel has been consistent, and the associated broadcast effort almost constant. Family first, with cell phone from the hospice. Lodge residents and staff the next day, in person. Dad’s community of friends and associates, through phone calls and a written obituary. My own circle of friends and colleagues, through staged email.
The directed effort proceeds under its own unarguable logic: begin with those who must know immediately and move on to those who will hear of it eventually and feel badly that they had not heard sooner. Minister, funeral director, lawyer, pension administrators, colleagues, friends, and acquaintances who had met him — these are caught in this intentional net. A parallel outpouring proceeds under its own emotional imperative: tell whoever is beside me when the noise in my head gets too loud. Airline check-in staff, friendly grocery store clerks, email correspondents who ask how Christmas went — these are caught in this unpredictable net. Spilled out onto the trawler’s deck, all are left gasping for air, yet sometimes it is the only way I can catch my breath.
Yesterday, my non-stop broadcast stopped. A hair stylist understandably preoccupied with crazed clients and the death of ‘glam’ even for New Year’s Eve — the stuff of his own life — provided no conversational opening for what was new in mine, and I chose not to force one. Friends of friends discussing aging parents over an end-of-year glass of wine opened the door wide, but I chose not to walk through. Stepping carefully to avoid outright lying, I participated in the prevailing light-hearted and optimistic tone.
Yesterday was the first day that I deliberately did not tell someone that my father had just died. Today, I tell you. Two steps forward, one step back. It’s been two weeks and two days since I saw him breathe his last.