This is, admittedly, a misleading title.
It’s been a long time since I sat down at a keyboard to write something that wasn’t focused on injury prevention in developing countries (my day job). And it’s almost exclusively because my dad died. Suddenly and unfairly. So suddenly and so unfairly, in fact, that I remember being left with the sense that his death had been just a misunderstanding and if I could find whoever was in charge we could sort this out and everyone could go home happy, and in time for Jeopardy.
But of course that’s not how it happened. Eventually, we did go home, less one, though I must admit watching Jeopardy was really the only thing I could manage for a considerable amount of time. I think. I’m not really sure exactly what I did in those first few months. There’s evidence I showed up to work. I remember walking the dog in the cold and dark. Playing spider solitaire. I ate a lot of macaroni and cheese . I watched television. Unless the storylines involved fathers or loss. Or losses of fathers.
But what I did not do is write. Or read. I couldn’t. There was something in the way. Some big dark, heavy something. Besides, I knew I would find no comfort in any of it. I didn’t need the catharsis of writing. I’m pretty sure I was uncontrollably catharting all over the place. That avalanche of grief—the sorrow and heartbreak and despair and helplessness, the exhaustion and frustration and regret—still rushed down the mountain toward me no matter what I did. And a lousy pen wasn’t going to stop it.
It’s grief, I know. It doesn’t have a logic. It’s no more logical than, you know, the death that brought it on. But in a way, it’s strange (ironic, maybe) that my grief at losing him is what ultimately got in the way of my writing.
At his viewing, the condolences from his friends and colleagues (some of whom I was meeting for the first time as they passed through the very long line on that very cold and very icy night) to me could be put into two distinct categories. The first was summed up nicely by a co-worker of his who said simply, “You know, your father never met a stranger.” Which was true. If he didn’t know a soul when he entered a room, he’d have at least a buddy or two by the time he left. Be it a remote airport in Alaska, or a crowded piazza in Capri, my dad loved to make friends. The other was this: “Oh, you’re the writer! Your dad said you just had something published…” This was also true. I had published a short story a few months before. In fact, the last memory I have of him, he’s sitting at my dining room table, a day after the family celebrated my 40th birthday, three days before he was gone, thumbing through the story yet again.
I knew he was proud of me. I have that. There is no mystery, no need to sort out a misunderstanding there. And I know he’d be disappointed, hurt, even, if he knew he was the cause of my extended hiatus. That fact has never been far from my thoughts, even when I was trying to blot out all thoughts.
I’m writing now, as you can see. Is this the first of many? I don’t know. The big, dark, heaviness of grief is still there, and I can’t say if I feel better or worse, but this wasn’t as frightening as I thought it was going to be.