Headless in Heaven

One week and one day after Dad died, my sister Flea called.

"How are you?" she asked. "How're you doing with everything?"

"Fine," I lied. I mean, I am the older sister. I have a reputation to uphold.

In my experience (and remember I am a trained psychotherapist), losing your mind is usually something you want to hide from others, not share. And I was fairly certain that I was either a) losing what little sanity I had or b) dying of a terminal and as yet undiagnosed illness. Normal people just did not feel like I was feeling...Irritated, irritable, tearful, scattered, exhausted, hypersensitive then numb. It was a brain tumor, right? Besides, wasn't bone-deep fatigue a sign of either depression or cancer?

I chose the brain tumor.

"Well, I'm not fine," my sister said. "I'm pissed off at everybody. I'm just looking for a fight. And then a few minutes ago I walked into the drugstore to pay on Dad's bill, took one look at the pharmacist, and knew I was going to have to leave before he saw me crying. I just remembered all the times we talked about Dad's medicines and it made me...I had to come out to the car and cry. Then I thought, maybe I should call my sister Flea and see if this is happening to you."

She stopped, her voice thick with unshed tears.

"Oh, honey, you poor thing!" I cried. I sounded very concerned, which I was, but more than that I was relieved. Someone else on the planet was nuts.

"Well, it's just grief," my sister said...also a trained psychotherapist. "The adrenaline wore off and now we're just grieving."

Duh! Now why hadn't I thought of that...Well, I had, but I'd dismissed the idea as impossible. I mean, didn't I grieve for a year before he died? What did I have left? We'd said goodbye a thousand times. Why was there still gunk left?

"Well, how long is this going to last?" I asked.

I could see her, sitting in the cracked asphalt parking lot in front of Realo, honking into a tissue, her nose cherry red, her eyes swollen. I could feel my own body respond, tears welling up in my eyes even as I willed them away.

"It could be awhile," she said, her voice muffled by Kleenex. "We loved him bad. Mom's crazy too. She keeps trying to fight with me, but I won't do it."

"So that's why she sent me that nasty email about hiding the CD of Dad's funeral from her?"

"Oh, I'm sure," she answered. "When I didn't fight, she went for you."


"Are you tired?" I asked.

"Oh. My. God!" Flea answered. "I'm drinking coffee in the flipping afternoon! I've never done that in my life!"

Cut me and I bleed Starbucks...But still, the exhaustion, the lack of braincells, the lack of any worthwhile thoughts about anything...It was so incredibly overpowering.

"Are you dreaming about him yet?"

I am the one in the family that has all the "strange" and "unexplainable" things happening after people die. They talk to me. One even sat on my bed in pink long-underwear and explained that I was just way too upset about his death and should ease up because he couldn't go on in peace until I did. (It's a long story and I have a patient in 20 minutes. I'll explain later, if you're interested.)

"Nope. No dreams," I answered. Maybe Dad was really and truly done with us. Maybe a year of saying goodbye had been enough for him.

"Hmmm," she said. "Maybe he's still in orientation. You know there's a lot to explore up there. Maybe he's just busy."

That's Dad, all right, ever curious. He'd assume we were fine and start investigating his new life immediately...I could picture that.

"Or maybe he's not around because when they took him away he was naked."


This was a stopper. Naked? "Did the funeral home people undress him before they took him? I don't think they do that, Becky."

But on the other hand, where were his clothes? I didn't remember seeing anything left behind? What happens to your pajamas when you die?

"He was only wearing a t-shirt and a diaper," she said calmly.

Somehow the word diaper did not belong in a sentence with Dad. He wouldn't have liked the image either.

"He's so private," she said. "He wouldn't want us seeing him naked."

Although that last week or two, I saw this many times and we got over it. "I have boys," I told him. "I can assure you, what you've got can't be anything I haven't seen a bazillion times." Of course, then there was the issue of conceiving those boys. I would've seen a penis then, too, but I didn't say that because I never actually admitted to ever having sex...I mean, ewwww, that is my father!

"So you think he's not coming around because he doesn't have anything to wear? I don't know about that. My friend, Tom, died and he was naked and he showed up in pink long johns."

"Really?" she says.

"Don't ask me why," I said. "I was too busy asking him why he killed himself to ask why they issued him pink long underwear."

"Hmmm," she said again. "Well, Mom thinks she saw him, but just from the neck down."

I think all the wrong things then...Like, how would she know for sure without his head? His body was a wasted wreck, would she still recognize it...I.D it in a line-up of other naked guys? On the other hand, they were married over 50 years. And why from the head down? What happened to his head? Or was that more a symptom of their relationship issues? Or was he trying to say I'm keeping my head in the clouds? Or you can have my body but you can't take my mind? Was his head floating out there like the Mighty and All Powerful OZ?

I stop thinking and ask, "Why just his head?"

Four hours away I know she is thinking the same things I am because we both snort-laugh at the same time.

It makes me remember Dad's birthday two years ago, when we were all standing out in front of his condo building in the dark, peering up at the building progress. Suddenly the blinds open in front of the plate glass, sliding doors of the downstairs, front left condo. A naked guy stands there staring out into the darkness.

We knew, according to my sister Becky, what message that guy was sending. It was after all, my father, Richard's birthday.

"He was trying to say, 'Happy Birthday, Dick!'" She'd crowed.

Now, if we could only figure out what Dad was trying to tell Mom...That is, if it was indeed Dad.


Kim said...

Hi Nancy. Forgive me, but I'm happy to see that things are progressing. What you and your sister are feeling happens to everyone, and for some, it takes a lot longer than others. People say love and hate are the same thing (emotionally) but I think grief and love are more similar. Clarity is an end result of feeling the emotions, so what you feel, what you do, how you do and feel it all determine what you'll see at the end, and it will be different for each of you, but that is okay.

I haven't tried to contact you because I know you need the time, the space and the luxury of going through these stages. I'll be here when you are ready.

christina said...

Thank you for this. We're in the process of losing my aunt to cancer. My grandfather died a year and a half ago, cancer in his stomach. It's exhausting. I've lost my mother to my aunt's care, she spends every weekend and every other week looking after this woman I love like a second mother. I want to be able to help. I can't. I want my mother home to mother me. She can't. I want my aunt to get well. She can't. I want to punch a wall. I can't. So all these conflicting emotions on top of divorce and relocation and job search and homelessness well... it's a handful. thanks for sharing your side of grief.

Nancy said...

Oh, Christina! Damn! That's rough. I know it's hell right now and it's got to come out somehow or you'll explode, so thanks for sharing your feelings here. Please keep in touch and keep writing!