Yesterday on NPR I heard a news story about a 14 year old Syrian boy who was tortured to death, and a soldier who said he shot and killed a 2 year old baby so she wouldn’t grow up to be a demonstrator.
I’m grieving for my dad in the most heartbroken, raw, awful way. But when I hear terrible stories like that I remember the time in the hospital after he came off the ventilator and could talk again. He looked at me and he said that no matter what happened, he had a wonderful life and couldn’t have asked for more. He loved his family and his job and he was happy. He didn’t want to die, not at all, but he said that he felt like he’d lived a happy and very blessed life.
At one point, I hugged him close and said to him Everything is going to be okay. And he said, No, it isn’t. He said it kind of accusatory, like it was easy for me to say that since I wasn’t the one with cancer and COPD and rheumatoid arthritis. Then he paused and started over. Well, it is. I know it is. I felt like an idiot for saying it, but it was all I knew to do. I always want to hear that things are going to be okay, even when they’re clearly not.
What’s so difficult, I think, even maybe more than missing him so badly, is that he loved being alive. There was so much he wanted to do and learn and talk about. He wanted to cook and build this awesome computer that had so much stuff in it it had to have something like six fans to keep it cooled off. Right before he went into the hospital he ordered a woodcarving book (he used to make furniture and carve smaller things – I have a letter opener he made) and a bunch of cookbooks. He retired in October and his life was pretty much over on April 1st when he went into the hospital and never got to go home again. We had some wonderful moments even in that hospital, but it wasn’t his life.
I’ve been in the hospital for over a week before. It doesn’t take very long to get really used to and kind of dependent on being there. It doesn’t take long before it’s hard to remember your real life, the one where you got dressed every day and stood in the kitchen to make your coffee and did the crossword puzzle and listened to the radio. The one where you checked the weather report and ran to the hardware store on a Saturday and put stamps on bills and dropped them into the mail and merged into traffic and made small talk with the cashier at the grocery store.
I pick at my sadness by thinking to myself that if my dad didn’t get sick, he’d have been here to visit us by now. He’d have come to soccer games and wrestling matches and cheered for the kids with me. We would have cooked supper together and had political debates and talked about physics and stars and funny TV commercials. We’d have put the kids to bed and stayed up really late, drinking beer and telling stories. He told the best stories and I’d give anything to have that on video.
I know my dad was happy and he really did have much more than most people do. But he also had so much more he wanted to do. I can’t put into words how much I was looking forward to seeing more of him after he retired, of the kids getting to really know him, of celebrating his 90th birthday by getting all my kids and my granddkids together for a big party. Of him helping the kids with their physics homework and coming to see them graduate from college and start their own families.
I still talk to him. I send him IMs to his gmail account. And you know what it says on his status? It says, Stan is offline and can’t receive messages right now. Messages you send will be delivered when Stan comes online. I don’t really believe that he can read what I write to him. A lot of times I tell him how mad I am that he died. Not at him, but just at how unfair it is. He used to tell me that life isn’t fair. That you’re not issued a guarantee with your birth certificate and if you expect things to be fair you’ll be disappointed. But it’s still not fair. And I’m still not able to really and truly believe that he’s gone. Sometimes I dream about him, and he talks to me and I don’t want to wake up.
I think I believe in an afterlife, but I am not really convinced that we keep anything of who we are here when we move on. I mean, I don’t think he’s out there somewhere missing us. What I hope is that he’s learned every single fascinating secret about the universe and the stars that he wanted to travel to. I hope he is finally an astronaut, just like he wanted. And I hope that he has a little bit of us with him, like we have some of him here.