An open letter to my father
This Saturday is your and Mom’s anniversary, and I’m not sure why that’s hitting me harder than any of the other holidays. More than Father’s Day (which was terribly hard). More than your birthday.
I suppose the old cliche is true that death puts things into perspective. I never realized how big of an influence you had over my life until I couldn’t go to you anymore. We were never that close…not like you and Dana were. Dana was Daddy’s girl. Will continues to be Mama’s boy. And then there was me. I don’t think that we had a bad relationship…just an unfulfilling one. We had so little in common and we were both so polite. That’s where I got it from. You always talked so much about common decency and how uncommon it was. Whenever I’m faced with the choice of showing that decency, I tend to think of you.
The main thing that I miss are the opportunities. You were always a very quiet, private man. You could be silly and funny with us, but your true feelings always seemed to be buried. I know that Grandma wasn’t the easiest to live with and you must have had a lonely childhood…that’s the way it sounded, anyway. Grandpa wasn’t around and Uncle Denny was older and had moved out. It was just you and Grandma…and Grandma Strasse was a pill. I never asked you the simplest of questions like, “Who was your best friend growing up?” or “How did you know that Mom was the one you wanted to marry?” The first question would have been easier for you. You probably would have been stumped by the second…not because you didn’t have an answer for it, but because you weren’t the kind to share too many secrets. If you’re anything like me, you were probably told often that your secrets were silly or stupid. You were told that your ideas were dumb so you buried them. I got my introversion from you, and that’s not a bad thing at all. There’s a power in knowing your own mind and having quiet time to let your mind wander. Most people want to fill their space up with so much noise that they don’t even know the sound of their own thoughts.
I started buying Christmas gifts. I always get an early start on it. I sent out the emails to Dana, Mom, Will, and Nick asking for lists and ideas. And it broke my heart that I didn’t have to send one to you. Your email address sits vacant now, unused and slowly filling up with emails that will never be read. What happens to a person’s email account once they die? Are there just these millions and millions of accounts floating around out there in the web? Do they eventually get deleted due to inactivity? Does the common widow know to delete her husband’s unused email account?
As much as my heart breaks, I know that my pain isn’t as deep as Mom’s, and that’s disheartening for a number of reasons. Obviously, it kills me to see Mom cry. I’ve never seen her like this before…even when Linley died, there was at least a small pocket of hope in her. I spent a good amount of time wondering if she might do something drastic. The other day, I went over to the house and found a sealed envelope in the desk drawer labeled, “Mom/Sue’s Funeral Plans”. I crept into the kitchen and opened it, fearing that it was some kind of letter that we weren’t supposed to find until the deed was done. But it was an old letter…from back when Mom had her hernia surgery. She wrote that in case anything bad happened, she wanted everyone to know her final wishes. It was dated several years back. She must have simply forgot that it was there.
I put the letter back and started to feel silly for thinking that Mom would ever do something like that, and then I felt silly for feeling silly for thinking that Mom would ever do something like that. Love and heartbreak can lead us down dark paths. So can mental illness. Mom didn’t want you to know, but she’s been taking depression medication for a while. It never occurred to me that you’d have any kind of issue with that. Did you have an issue with me taking medication? If you did, you never let on. Mom needs to see a therapist. She’s lost her way without you. Covid19 hasn’t helped. Right when she could really use connection and people filling the house with laughter and stories, that’s when we enter quarantine. She has Nicholas and Noah, but they can’t fix everything.
I’m also sad because I continue to deal with the same thoughts that have plagued me ever since you died: I’m not grieving enough. I’m not crying enough. I’m not sad enough. I’m going on with my life, and I feel as though everyone else in the family is at a standstill. There are times when I forget that you’re gone; I don’t live at home and I didn’t see you every day. You being out of the picture isn’t all that different. It’s only when I go home and see the empty basement or hear Rowdy crying nonstop that I’m forced to remember you’re gone.
That’s a new thing. Rowdy cries. He’s really barking, but I think it’s a kind of cry. He hates being outside (even more than when you were alive), and when he is forced into nature, he’ll just stand on the deck and bark incessantly. Mom and Will have tried putting a bark collar on him, but between his thick fur and the collar being rather cheap, it doesn’t do much good. You were his daddy, too, and, unlike us, he doesn’t understand why you’re gone. He just knows that he’s missing you.
When Linley died, I was devastated, but (as with Mom) there was an aspect of hope to it. We all called her our little angel and talked as if we’d see her again. There was never a doubt in my mind that I’d see her once I, too, died. I often dreamed that in my last moments on Earth, she’d visit me and lead me up to Heaven. I would just know that it’s her. Beau would be there, too. When I think about Linley, I think of hope in a time of turmoil. I don’t know why your death is so different, but I’m having a huge crisis of faith right now.
In my brain, Linley definitely became and angel, but you? I don’t know. Linley was stillborn so I never really knew her; there was an aspect of distance there. But I knew you and you were ripped away from us. Once there was something and then it was gone. Once there was you and then you were gone. I remember having a conversation with a friend of mine right before Linley died where we were discussing the afterlife. He’s an agnostic and said that humans are machines and chemical reactions an when we die, the machines cease to work and we simply cease to exist. The idea scared me even then and then we lost Linley, and I outright dismissed even the possibility of it. My niece did not just cease to exist. She had to go somewhere. She had to be somewhere. She had to be living in Heaven and flying around on clouds and dancing with Jesus. She just had to be. But your death was different somehow. My friend’s idea fills my brain and I think that maybe you’re nowhere. You have simply ceased to exist, and that idea frightens me. I want to see you or get some kind of sign from you. The light in my car will randomly pop on; it’s done that since I bought it over a year ago, but now I tell myself that that’s you…just popping in to say hello. I had a bonfire a month back and a month came and sat on my leg. He just sat there with me for a long while, and I wanted to believe that that was you…just popping in to say hello. To tell me that you’re okay. Where are you, Dad? You know the secret, and I don’t. I just want to know that you’re still there. I need some kind of sign.
Of course, if you have ceased to exist, then that means that Linley has ceased to exist. So has Grandma and Grandpa. So will I one day. A pastor would tell me that you’re too busy singing the praises of God to worry about little old me, but I really wish that you would. Maybe you are off on some great adventure. Maybe you’ve been reincarnated and get to start all over again. I hope you learn to fly a plane in this life; I know that that was a big dream of yours in this one. I hope you have a happier childhood than the one you had here.
I hope that you’re okay, Dad.