My mom’s dog was hit by a car Friday morning. In her young, uncontrolled manner she ran down my mom’s long, gravel driveway and right into traffic. It makes me sad, not the least of which because she was still a puppy, but also because my mom was so very attached to her in her own childlike way.
Simultaneously trusting and suspicious of the world, my mom has always held the things she loves close to her, almost too close sometimes, understanding their impermanence. Now she tells me she doesn’t want a new dog. It just hurts too much, she said.
But it’s loss that makes life worth living, I said.
Pessimistic, I suppose, but no less true. So often in science fiction we see the stories of people that figured out the way to live forever and it’s revealed at the end of the movie or book or tv show that it’s death that gives life meaning, that taking away the mortal coil such as it were removes what is important to life. It is not forever.
Of course, this doesn’t make death or loss any less painful. In my long term process of letting go, like I said in a post a few days ago for #reverb10, I am dealing with a sadness that has surrounded my life. A sadness I’ve held onto for far too long and I’m only just now beginning to know what it means and why I’ve clung to it for so long.
My father died when I was 13. It was sudden and devastating, one day there and then gone for good. My family fell apart, none of us particularly adept at dealing with the weight of that loss. We’re still broken, I think, like the wine glass the drops on the kitchen floor and shatters into so many sharp, slivered pieces there is no way to put it back together again.
I didn’t know my father very well. Thirteen is that age where you’re just starting to understand your parents are people, too. I was on the cusp of that understanding when he died from massive heart failure, one Sunday afternoon.
So when I think of my dad, my strongest and most vivid memories are filled with sadness, hurt, pain, and longing. It’s a struggle for me to remember his smile, his laugh, the roughness of his working class hands with their torn fingernails and swollen knuckles, a band aid crafted from duck tape and a piece of paper towel. The way he always carried a handkerchief, wore white t-shirts and work pants often smeared with industrial adhesive. How he came home from work and read the paper in the bedroom while watching tv.
The week before he died I had been sick with the stomach flu, the kind that gives you dry heaves and makes you not want to eat for days. He had retired only a couple of months before this and was now home more often. He took care of me while I was sick, a difference from the vast majority of my life up until then. Sick nights of puking had always been my mom’s domain and to this day I have no idea why he took over that night. He was amazingly gentle for such a rough hewn man, rubbing my back as my stomach refused to calm down again, and helping me back into bed after each wave of sickness passed.
I felt guilty for years after because he caught that stomach flu from me and I worried that had caused the heart failure, you know, in that way we try to make sense of the world when we’re young (or not so young). It was only when I finally admitted to my mom my fears that she told me it had nothing to do with the flu, that his heart disease was severe enough that his heart just couldn’t keep pumping anymore.
Even the memories from before he died are tinged with that sadness for me. Holding on to that grief has been my way of keeping him close, of keeping his memory alive for over 20 years. But I don’t want to keep him in sadness anymore. I want to let go of the sadness without letting go of my dad.
So I’m working on it, slowly, letting go of the sadness and remembering the things that made my dad who he was. I can sum a lot of that up with this picture, which says more then any words I could ever write.