When I was visiting my mom last month, we found a “calling card file” that belonged to my dad. It was a little more than half-way full of business cards my dad had collected in the last several years before his death. I took it for C, who seems to collect business cards effortlessly only to throw them all out as soon as the stack threatens to become unwieldy. At home I asked C whether he had use for such a thing, and when he said he did, I said, “Well, I’ll take the cards out before I give it to you.”
This evening, as I finally took the cards out, I travelled back in time. I went back to when my dad was still alive to collect business cards and shake hands. I started at the end. The last couple rows were a hodgepodge of occupations, most likely signifying friends or clients he wanted to keep in touch with. The cards from recovery centers that I found when I flipped the now-empty sheet forward gave me a shock that felt electric. I felt my jaw clench as I wriggled them free. Then there were specialists, which gave way to centers that I assume the doctors before them had recommended. And I remembered the way he looked in reverse from the last time I saw him to the first time I saw him after he’d been diagnosed. I remembered my different hairstyles, and how they felt against my face.
The business cards went back further still, until I recognized the names as neighbors, friends, and people who came to his memorial. I had pried them out, but they all left the impression of being there.
I feel exhausted. The past two months, these family holidays without Dad, and the quality and amount of time I’ve spent processing my new life without him that these months have necessitated has wiped me out. Two weekends ago C & I were cleaning out our little storage space in our building’s basement, and I came upon a series of boxes that contained my childhood and teenage years. As I opened one after another I saw remenants of the past. My throat began to close and I became breathless as the choice of whether to keep or toss confronted me. C took the boxes and put them back, saying we could figure it out another time, but it feels as if I did not put them back. It feels as if I took them out and spread their contents all over our apartment and now have to be careful not to step on the clay mask I made in elementary school when I get up to use the bathroom in the middle of the night.
I think about cancer and I think about death, but in such a way that it feels as if I can’t grasp either. Both words mean very little to me even as they feel like quite a lot. I bring up Dad’s death at least once a week, which I assume makes people uncomfortable. It’s not that I want people to feel unease or sympathy, it’s that the awkwardness feels genuine and therefore right. He is dead. He has been dead for four months and I still feel happy that he’s not in pain, blessed to have had time with him, angry that I am left here to make of life what there is to make of it, grateful that I can remember him as someone I admire, and sad that we ran out of chances to make new memories. But I also feel ready for whatever comes next.
This process of grief has, perhaps, felt like the stupidest thing I’ve done in life thus far. It has been whole in its illogicality, but when I deconstruct all the bits and pieces it almost starts to make sense. As someone who is used to the watery, fluttering grip of anxiety, the sudden feeling of oversaturation combined with overexposure, I am used to searching for meaning as a talisman against slipping underground into the aquifer of depression. But grief has been and is not a different beast. Sometimes, I suppose, things just need to be their own.
As many people in my office have been discussing Thanksgiving plans, I feel grateful that more people have not asked me about mine. Even if Thanksgiving was a holiday I enjoyed, this year would still be different. It’s our first year without Dad.
But I never much cared for Thanksgiving, which I associate with a day’s worth of work for food I don’t much favor and a feeling of displacement that only deepened once I learned about colonization. I can’t adequately describe these things to acquaintances, and feel as if I am letting down the listener even when I just smile and say that I’m not doing anything.
This year something that feels like a flu, a new job, about 700 miles, and the after effects of life without Dad have combined to make it so that I am simply too tired to care about a holiday I never felt comfortable with. I am very glad that no one has offered to host us so that I am spared the impoliteness of refusal.
You could even say that I’m grateful.
But of the many things I have and am grateful for, that would be nearly insignificant.
It was raining. Even though it didn’t feel as if it was raining, it clearly was. It felt more like crying–sporadic, medium-sized drops that were so numerous they’d become more than a careless outburst or a wind-burnt leak. A few drops accompanied by a few more until rain began to happen all around, but not touching, me. Or maybe that was me feeling those feelings. Maybe I’d feel like this no matter the weather.
When I spoke to Mom she gave the impression that things were getting easier for her. By and large time was helping. I was relieved to hear this for her. Things are different for me. I feel as if I am steadily moving backwards, but I am certain it’s not finite because it feels like a great coiling. Or maybe it’s an uncoiling. Either way, I have faith I will be returned to the center no matter how it has moved.
When I boarded the bus yesterday it was in a different place. The stop had moved a block down. As I sat on the bus, hurtling down the same bridge towards the place I call home, I wondered if I would actually end up there. Would this new route deposit me somewhere else? And if so, who would I be once I got there?
At times I feel as if I am very far away from the people I’m around. When we talk, I have to make my voice extra loud so it can pierce the awkwardness that shrouds me. During those times when I don’t have the energy or inclination to make myself heard, I say nothing.
But even nothing makes me tired.
So I do as much as I can each day, and even on days where as much as I can is next to nothing, I’m grateful for this chance.
C says he’s seen me cry more in the past month than I have in the past year. I express genuine puzzlement, because I feel better than I ever have before.
It’s just that sometimes I have these jabs of loss, like I’m waking up from a dream where everyone I know is still alive.
He says that it’s probably because things are good that I’m feeling this way now. Now that I no longer have to protect myself, I can feel. He describes my former state as icy, and I must admit that at times I do feel as if I am melting.
Lately I have been trying not to speak unless I have something to say. It is possible that this undertaking has been yet another of my attempts to retain the best parts of Dad now that he’s not here to remind me. I came to respect how he would hold silence until he was ready.
Still, I think I might actually come across as dull. Much of the time this doesn’t perturb me, but sometimes I forget to not care what other people think.
So much of life is learning to be okay with the things around you. I suspect that the rest of life is learning what needs to change and how to change it, but I can’t say quite yet.