What Do You Want to Be (Doing) When You Die?
When I lost my dad a little over two months ago, it was as if everything I knew or thought I knew about life, suddenly came to a crashing halt. The things that gave me pleasure, such as writing, photography or laughing with friends, became empty of meaning. People's voices around me were muffled; their gestures and words nonsensical. I tried halfheartedly to connect, but failed miserably. Strangers in the street annoyed me. I mean, why did they walk right by me and not even crack a smile? Could they not see my pain? My family got under my skin as their grief mirrored my own. The Earth continued to turn and people still demanded things from me, yet I drifted on the bottom of the sea, awash in my own sorrow.
My dad was what some might call a "Man's Man." He immediately put people at ease and made family, friends and perfect strangers feel that they mattered. In our home growing up he was the guy who fixed stuff--broken bicycles, tree forts, skipping rope handles, swings. Broken hearts. The kind of guy who always asked us how we were, always giving us hugs and telling us he loved us.
After he died I felt broken. At loose ends. He was no longer around to put me back together. And forget about me creating stuff of my own. I couldn't stand the sight of my writing or anything with the faint scent of creative about it. My feeling was, what point was there in ever making anything when it was obvious that everything was transitory--that all would eventually die? And in a less existential vein, he had suffered before he died so why then should I go on about my business as though nothing had happened?
Then, one day something occurred that made me approach my grieving differently.
When my father was rushed to the hospital after a major stroke, my sister had brought some items of clothing to him that she thought he might need when he recovered. One of these items was a black windbreaker that he wore everyday. After he died so suddenly, we looked all over for that black jacket, not because he would ever wear it again of course, but because we felt that it wouldn't be right for us to leave something of his in a strange place. We called the hospital but they didn't have it. Eventually we gave up searching.
Then about a month later, my niece found it crumpled up at the back of the pantry. We don't know how it got there, but what was important was that we finally had it. Not only that, in the pockets were two crossword puzzles he had taken from the newspaper that morning before his stroke. Every morning he would go to the same coffee shop and meet the same group of guys. They'd talk about their families, discuss current affairs, and their health problems, as they drank their black coffees. My dad loved doing crosswords and he made a point of getting to the newspaper in the coffee shop before anyone else so he could pinch the daily crossword or crosswords. He loved words, loved solving problems, and being stumped by something only to figure it out a few hours later. Finding those fresh crosswords folded up in the pockets of his jacket made me realize that, before his life had changed forever, he was in the process of doing what he had wanted to do that day.
It was a simple thing, really; not a symphony he was writing or the final draft of a Peace Accord, but doing these crosswords had meant something to him. It had given him joy. As it happened, that little jolt of reality about his life somehow gave me permission to get back to my creative pursuits. Although, not as a gleeful kid set loose in the playground.
No, his death has made a huge hole in my life, and as a result I am not the same person I once was. So, necessarily what I express, even how I am creative, has changed. Yet I think my love for him and the overwhelming sadness I feel can find expression in creative pursuits. It might even bring me closer to who he was, and in the process, could help my healing.