Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Existential Ghost

"But...I don't want you to die."

"I know, Runsk. I know."

That was it; less than a 30-second exchange between me and my dad. He was wearing a dark grey suit with a red tie. He had the air of someone who had just finished an important meeting, or a business traveler who was in-between flights.

The dreams of my dad have been few and far between, but when they come to me, they pack a punch. I would say that in the time since July 2009 when his health crisis began, I've had less than a dozen dreams about my dad. Since moving into his room last week, I've had two.

In both dreams, he is wearing the suit and tie. He is the dad I knew as a young girl; the dad who would come home from consulting business trips on Fridays, waltzing in the door with a beige trench coat and a leather briefcase, smelling like the airport. 

My died died in October. In the five months since he died, I've had two (only two) major crying sessions. The first one happened in January. The second one happened this morning. Back when he was in hospice – the week he was home before he passed away – I was so mad at myself. I was so mired in deep depression over my own life that I actually struggled to make room for grieving my dad's impending death.

I remember watching my brother and my mom. They would cry. They would go into my dad's room and hold his hand and I could tell that as they stared into his eyes and he smiled back, they were having an unmuddied exchange that was strictly focused on the fact that he was soon leaving this earth. 

But not me. Every time I went to my dad's bedside during that last week, I was a bumbling mess. I was trying to explain all my failures to my dad: Dad, I actually, um, resigned from my job in Chicago. Dad, I know you know I got married...we are actually um...we're going to annul it, Dad. I'm so sorry..."

And the worst thing was, he would just lay there, looking at me. I would like to tell you that I got some sort of comfort; some sort of wink or smile, acknowledging that it was OK. But, here is the truth:

Parents love their children with the bursting capacity of their hearts. But when they die, parents need to shift the focus from you, their child, and redirect it toward the complex business of dying.

So. There it was. Selfish Runsky trying to squeeze one last ounce of support out of Understanding Dad, but, he was not able to give it.


I am still trying to understand what is going on. Why, since moving back home in January it feels like I am finally able to:

  1. Experience the delayed grief of losing my dad
  2. Sense my dad's presence around me. The old Dad, not disabled Dad
During the five and a half years that my dad lived in a severely disabled body (unable to move, speak, eat or breathe on his own), it seemed sacrilegious to reminisce about the old Dad - the Dad who drove boats and played guitar. It was an unacknowledged acceptance of his new, dramatically altered state. It felt like if we lamented over what was that we would dishonor his present state.

Anyone who lives with a disabled human being knows this:

You find the capacity in your heart to love a disabled human being. Your brain rewires itself to see the perfection in a crippled parent, a medically compromised child, an Alzheimer's-struck grandparent. This is the noble task of being humans; we learn to love the imperfections in one another.
I have never done what I did this morning. In the midst of a particularly active crying session, I went into my dad's closet and hugged his clothes. This was the classic movie scene – the grieving woman hugs the shirts/ties/sport coats of her lost husband. But, today it was exactly what I needed. 

I needed to see my dad's Docksider shoes – the ones he always wore up at Gull Lake. I needed to see his unique, squared off handwriting. I honestly could not soothe myself until I played with the tassels of his fancy business shoes.

And then I knew what I had to do. I had to write it down, as I have here. I am caught in some semi-imaginary illusion that my dad reads my blog. Before he had cancer and became disabled, my dad was my "editor" of sorts. He never critiqued, but he always read.

Please read this, Dad. Know that I know you are here.

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