I Miss Him Swell, I Do

A month is not a long time to miss someone. Not really. There were times when I went a month without calling Dad or visiting. These times came after we moved to Greensboro and left him and Mom in Atlanta. That was the beginning of our separation after day upon day of hanging out, raising my babies.

All my life I wanted time with Dad. The three of us kids would be forced to steal what minutes we could with him- often by accompanying him on his various errands- visits to shut-ins, communion to parishioners in the hospital, trips to the grocery store or hardware store. We were content to sit alone in the car for hours, waiting, just to spend a few precious moments talking with him on the ride to or from his destination.

When he retired and they moved south to be closer to my young family, I suddenly had everything I'd ever wished for from him. Dad immersed himself in our lives, pitching in to help me with the kids while my then husband was working, puttering around my house fixing things or constructing monuments...

One time he arrived to find me busily nailing twigs together in the backyard. He watched for a few minutes then said, "What are you doing?" I said, "Building a trellis." He shook his head. "I don't think that's gonna hold up," he said. "Want some help?" The result was a lattice arbor, covered in four varieties of clematis with an attached swing. The neighborhood called it The Monument because they all knew it was Dad's way of saying he loved us.

On another occasion I wanted to build a fountain I'd seen in a magazine. It was made out of Terra Cotta pots and we had to drive almost an hour away to find all the materials needed to build the damned thing. My memory of that trip was not of the end result. What I remember is that I was standing a good fifty feet away from Dad and the boys, who at the time were like 2 and 4, when I turned around to hold up a piece of black tubing. The three of them were standing by a huge fountain, making anything more than gesture and sign language impossible.

As I held up the pipe and Dad squinted to inspect it from all those yards away, he forgot the two little boys behind him. As I watched they both walked to the edge of the huge pool that framed the fountain, clasped their hands behind their backs and slowly bent forward to dunk their heads in the water. They looked like the little bird toys that perch on the edge of a glass and with a tiny shove it dives down into the water.

By the time Dad caught on and I'd reached them, the boys were soaked and blissfully proud of themselves. What could we do but laugh?

When John got laid off and we had to move to Greensboro it was the end of an idyllic era. Gone was the house on Lake Lanier, the nights out on the sailboat, the afternoons spent floating in the cove on rafts, the dinners and parties. It was all over.

Until they moved once again to the water, this time four hours away in New Bern. It wasn't an every day existence but Dad was so obviously overjoyed to see us we couldn't bear to stay away any more than we absolutely had to. But sometimes soccer season prevented our visits, or life got in the way, and it was more than a month between visits.

Dad and I don't like to talk on the phone. It's just not the same and so time would pass without a word. But once we were all together in one place, the magic just seemed to happen all over again. As the eldest Unnamed One said, "Grandaddy was New Bern."

So in this brief month since Dad died, I have grieved...but I have also deluded myself into thinking it's just one of those busy times. At any moment the phone will ring and plans will be made for a weekend of sailing and eating and general loveliness. All the unconsciously stored up issues will be placed out on the table and dealt with and by the time we leave, our lives will be immeasurably better.

If only this were true.

Instead I find myself lost. The unconscious issues become all too conscious- like the old house not selling and us trying to pay two mortgages without a book contract or a good-paying, reliable source of income; like my not-so-secret feeling that I am a failure in my life because I don't know how I'm going to save us from bankruptcy. I know I could talk to him and without him telling me what to do, the answer would come clear and the burden would lift off my shoulders and leave my soul feather light.

It has been a month and I need him.

I watched 60 Minutes tonight and saw an episode about the medical teams trying to save lives in Iraq. One nurse, Mary, hit a nerve when she talked about fighting to save those boys, about remembering the names of the lost ones and how she still calls on them for strength when facing a particularly difficult case. She talked about fighting to beat the black spiral of death and how she feels like a failure when she loses.

I listened, started crying and had to leave the room for the bedroom where I watched the rest of the segment and sobbed. I know it triggered every weak spot in my all too vulnerable soul. I feel like Mary does when one of my old guys dies. I feel like a failure for not being able to save Dad and I still talk to my old guys and a few times, even Dad.

But he doesn't talk back, at least not yet, and it has been a month since he left. The logical rational part of me says, this is the way it is, kiddo. Welcome to the rest of your life. But the rational, sensible part of me says, he's just taking the tour. He'll be back. But my heart knows differently. My heart knows denial when it sees it.

So no, for me a month is not a long time to be missing someone- not when the rest of your life stretches out before you and the future without him is unfathomable on such a foggy, starless night.

I miss him bad, I do.

I must call my sister, Flea, and find out what she's feeling...I can tell with us, no news is never good news...


Elizabeth said...

He's around. You might not be ready to feel it, yet, but, I hope you will.

Things will get better. In my experience(heh, only 2 months more than yours, I am such the authority), you'll go to bed one night and think, "Hey, I haven't cried all day."

You still miss them, but, you will integrate it into your life, it won't always be so disruptive.

Nancy said...

Hey Elizabeth! Nice to hear from a fellow traveler. Sometimes I feel as if he's looking over my shoulder and I know a part of him lives inside me but you put it very nicely...I will integrate the loss and him into my day to day, but in a new way. I look forward to that.

Kim said...

Elizabeth is right Nancy, but you already know that. The stupidest things will trigger your emotions for a while, even when you think it's all over and done with, it will come and smack you in the ass and you'll be genuinely surprised, but eventually, you'll be able to smile at it because you'll remember and it won't rip out your guts.

Your sister and you have a lot of work to do with the new definition of your relationship. Don't let your sense of loss and distance manifest into something you cannot repair. It is hard to redefine what you are when you are in the midst of change, but you need to address it (change) and set the rules up right from the start. What the hell am I talking about? Well, I'm saying that you already know you have the propensity to go long stretches without contact. It's likely your sister has that too. If you don't set the paramaters for conversational stretches now, it can become all too easy to lose each other, and that would be such a shame. Grief this profound can turn a heart hard by nature, because hardening is the easiest way to block pain. You two need to wallow in it together and keep that softness between you. I'm no authority, but I've seen it happen too many times. Much love to you my friend. Drop me a line, will ya?

EarthMonk said...

It's been eight years since I lost my Dad. Although we had been incredibly close for most of my life, we had grown apart over the last nine or ten years preceding his death. He wasn't as nonjudgmental as your Dad, and I wasn't as good a daughter as you are. I was forever disappointing him by not living up to his expectations, and he was forever letting me down by not supporting my choices. We wasted a lot of time that could have been spent enjoying each other.

I say all that to say this. There is still the occasional day when I think “Dad’s gone” and cry. Our disagreements, of course, pale in light of his being gone forever, but I can't change now what the relationship was, and I refuse to romanticize it into something it wasn’t. Sometimes though, when I'm standing at a crossroads, I can hear his voice urging me in one direction...and then I grin and go the other way and our relationship continues.

Maybe the memories you’re having of your Dad – of accompany him on errands when you were young, or of the fountain, or the rafting and dinner parties – are his way of saying, “Don’t be sad. Remember when we...?”

I wish you peace and comfort,

jack0harps said...

Oh Pies -

I miss him too, and you. Been reading all your posts here in the library and now I need a fresh bandana - laughing and crying - the difference makes no difference today. What a guy. He used to come to all the joints and bars where we played that toenail moon music. He let you drive his car and he rode a bike everywhere. He came over for our boozy breakfasts and was nothing but open and honest and funny as hell. Later my wife leaned on him when my marriage got shitty. He was a cosmic genius. Guess what? So are you. You're your dad's daughter.

You'll miss him forever. I'm so sorry baby. You used to call him "mydad" all one word. So sorry. Much love and condolences to you. -J

Bea said...

I lost my dad back in 2002, and he suffered long before he died, so his death was a welcome peace. I missed his voice calling me on the phone (he lived in Ga, and me in NC) saying "Hi, my daughter." I felt very sad until the dream... the one where I see him, and he stands before me, and he is smiling, and we dance. I cried of course after I woke up, and I realized I felt comforted by the dream, and I knew he was happy, and that he was telling me he was still with me in my heart, always. So, one night, I hope you meet your father again, so he can hold you once more, and you can see it in his eyes. He will have a message for you. And you will cherish it as any flesh memory you have ever held. Bea

***Double_Oh_No*** said...

Hi there. I just ran across your blog as I was looking for info on Greensboro. My husband and I are moving there within the next month, as he has a transfer opportunity with his job. I have lived in Indiana all my life, but am looking forward to the new adventure that awaits.

With regards to this post, it really struck something in me. The main thing that has kept us here (in Indiana) this long is the strong ties with our family. I fear the day when we do face such loss; when we get a phone call that we have lost a loved one here. Even when you don't see family members on a daily basis, it is comforting when you are across the county from them. But being across the country is entirely different.

I am sorry for your loss. I cannot really relate at this point, but I know there is nothing easy about it at all...