Monday, July 2, 2012

The Reality of Losing Someone

I entertained this reality in my mind many times.  When I saw it happen to others, I thought maybe I understood.  However, no matter how much you try to imagine it, or prepare yourself, no amount of mental rehearsal comes close to the reality of losing someone you love.

First off, I’m incredibly lucky.  My dad passed at age 84, after a decade of roller-coaster health and hospital stays.  His old self was an expectation adjusted with each episode.  The first time a doctor truly pronounced him as mortal, my mind projected forward to the voyage of a life without him.

It was hard to watch him deteriorate over the years, but we got to do just that.  Enjoy his company.  His two lung cancer surgeries flipped the egg timer on his mortality.  Sand running from the full end, filling the empty lower half.  That’s when I truly realized his time would eventually run out.  Until then death was a nebulous concept, one that occurred in others’ lives.

A college acquaintance of mine’s parents were killed in a car accident.  I didn’t know the guy well; probably didn’t offer condolences.  I do remember thinking it was a colossal tragedy, and was baffled that he made it back to school.  He looked normal, just as I remembered him before.  I couldn’t imagine having the strength for that, yet I held my denial, my belief in my own parents’ immortality in an iron grip.

My dad isn’t immortal though.  He’s deceased.  Not of this earth.  I will never see his face or hear his voice again. 

I had tons of I Love Yous with my dad.  No regrets.  Nothing unspoken.  He had ZERO doubt of how I felt about him and a MASSIVE vice versa.  I also know he was proud of me, of the man I’d become.  He was proud of all of his kids.  He and our mom turned out honest, kind, decent people; qualities that mean a parent has done a good job.  None of this changes the simple fact.  Loss is still loss.

He’s just gone.  No matter how hard I try, or where I look.  Gone.

I think its human nature to prepare for these things.  I know I played it out in my mind.  Prior to his death, there were times when I’d look at him and sort of erase him from the moment.  Him not saying grace before dinner.  Him not sitting in his spot in the den.  Not strong enough to think about holidays though.

So there’s nothing more.  No more birthday phone calls, holidays, hugs, or kisses goodnight.  No more anything, everything.

I remember being in 8th grade, getting up one morning and my dad in the living room.  Just sitting, doing nothing.  He just stared.  “Did Mom talk to you?”  No.  “Papa died last night.”  His dad died.

I know that stare now.  I catch myself in it every day.  At first, the stare is you thinking about the reality of what’s happened.  Reliving the words in your head that someone you love is gone.  Over time, it changes.  Different for everyone, I’m sure.  It’s approaching six months for me and the stare now is when my brain goes into a cloud.  A cloud of perpetual wonder that death is something that affects everyone in the world, and happens every second of every day.

However, we continue.

Do people notice any difference in me?  Do I look normal?  When I stare, does anyone wonder what’s up with me?  What about people who know what’s happened?  Do they see a change in me?

Life goes on.  There’s a reason for the cliché.  Aside from a handful of people, the world won’t skip a beat when someone dies.

Though my dad is irreplaceable to me, there’s no great cavity in humanity.  No streets of wailing citizens.  No candlelight vigils.  Even for some people who knew him, tomorrow was just another day.  They paid their respects in whatever way they wished, and moved on.  That doesn’t make them bad people.  It’s just how things are.

Yet for some of us, there’s a hole in our lives.  It is different.  My family and I got a lot of extra years with him.  Not to prepare--as much as I might have thought that possible--but to appreciate him.  I know we appreciated the hell out of him.  Still, there’s loss.

I feel different.  I function fine.  I’m sleeping ok.  I eat.  I exercise…well, as much as I did a year ago.  However, I’m not the same.  It’s like my emotions were in a car wreck.  Like a body wracked with broken bones, a serious injury that requires rehabilitation.  So I cry a little every day.  I’ve always been a sucker for a tearjerker or homeless animal commercial, but this is extreme.  You name it, it’ll make me cry.  Songs.  Sitcoms.  Commercials.  I well up.  If I fight it, it’ll stop there.  Sometimes, I don’t fight.

I find myself staring off into space.  Not at anyone.  At nothing.  I’m not thinking about anything in particular.  Just feeling how different things are.

How did I react when someone, an acquaintance really, told me that he or she has lost a loved one, especially a parent?  In all honesty, looking back, I see myself as pretty indifferent and oblivious.  Kind of an asshole.  Maybe that’s harsh.  Maybe the reality hit too close to home and I tried not to think about being in that person’s shoes.

I’d offer condolences, of course.  I might ask for a detail or two, but once our conversation was over, I’d pretty much moved on too, not noticing the hole the person’s life, their stare.  Even with friends, real friends, I didn’t have much of a follow-up.  I never really kept tabs on how that person was doing.  He or she seemed ok, and that was good enough for me.  I never asked.  I cannot believe I never asked.  Having been on both sides now, I’m ashamed of myself.

The next time someone tells me about their loss, I won’t say, “I know how you feel.”  I’ll never know how anyone feels.  Our realities are different.  Our relationships were different.  However, I will have an understanding.  I’ll ask, and above all, I’ll follow up.  I’ll hope that they appreciated their loved one like I did mine. While I won’t know exactly what they are dealing with, I will know--absolutely know--that their loss is different, and much more than they imagined.

1 comment:

Greg Wagner said...

Mike, a truly touching telling of your state of mind. I still have my father physically but memory loss has taken him from us. We still love seeing him, giving him a neck rub, holding his hand, etc. even if there is no cognition.

Keep your father's memories fresh in your mind. They can last and sustain you for the rest of your life.