Grief is weird.
I don’t even know how to handle it. Does anyone?
I’ve never said the words “gallows humor” more in my life than I have the past two weeks. I’ve never laughed more through tears as I have in the past few days.
I don’t cry much. I explained why a month or two ago to my friend Lindsay–allergies are the bane of my existence. I get itchy eyes and a runny nose all year long from cats, dogs, ragweed, pollen, mold, dust mites, insert some random thing here…but my eyes and nose also will mistake tears for an allergic response and just turn into a full blown allergy ATTACK.
Attack makes it sound so much more violent! I love it.
In response, Lindsay said, “So you’re saying you’re allergic to crying.”
Astute observation, my friend. Very astute, indeed.
I laughed. She had me. Yes, I’m allergic to crying.
So anyway. Not my norm.
I wasn’t even going to share this. But another friend who is also an author mentioned that I should. And it fits. Because the man I’m about to tell you about was my biggest fan.
He read everything I ever wrote, even this one shitty story I wrote as a 12-year-old and carefully “hid” along the side of my desk in a pile of other papers. Hidden in plain sight, as it were.
He wasn’t supposed to read that story. Why did he go rummaging through my things? I was pissed. He said it was good. He was forgiven a little.
The last story I gave away to my newsletter subscribers, “Cry Olly Oxen Free,” well, he adored it. He read through earlier drafts and helped me work out some of the details. And improved it mightily, I might add.
The stuff about the substation was particularly guided by him, because he was a power engineer and designed substations. He thought that was my best short story yet. I don’t disagree.
Often, growing up, I just wanted to get away from home to get away from my parents, and him sometimes a lot, because he loved to always be working on a project in his shop, and he ALWAYS, WITHOUT FAIL, needed an assistant.
If I heard the shop door open, the best thing I could do (and my sisters as well), was make myself scarce. Otherwise I’d be stuck for at LEAST ten minutes holding the damn solder while he soldered two wires together, to make some broken, crap appliance work again.
Yes, very classy of me. And not selfish at all.
I know a little about a lot of things because of him. He was annoying and beautiful and happy and funny, and unabashedly himself.
All those things people say about other people–oh yeah, that’s an annoying trait that that person has, but it’s the thing you’d miss about them once they’re gone–is true.
He’s the epitome of that, that sense of oh damn I’m going to murder him because he sings “Sherry” so loud and hits those high notes (somehow) and is so proud of it, or he has to carry a snack size Ziploc full of Pero into the breakfast diner and ask for a tea kettle of hot water, oh it’s so embarrassing…
That’s him. And he was my step dad. And he died July 14th.
And it was sudden as hell.
One week I’d heard he’d been admitted to the hospital 4 hours away.
I could have driven down to see him, but I put it off (because they weren’t sure what was wrong with him or how long he had, but they were projecting maybe four months).
The next time I saw him, he’d declined to the point of being in a wheelchair, sleeping on morphine, mere minutes from death.
I hugged him a ton. He could understand and hear me. I told him I was sorry I’d been a brat on Mother’s Day, the last time we’d talked. And he was the best dad that I never deserved.
He tried to tell me that I used the F-word too much in my books.
Can you believe that? He was trying to trap me into some kind of deathbed promise! The gall…
I laughed. He smiled his notorious smile.
I told him I took most of them out, anyway.
He said something like, “You’re creating a reality…”
And then he was too tired to keep speaking.
Tonight I realized that he was the best dad I could have asked for. I always called him my step-dad. It’s something I guess I started as a ten year old and never let go of. This little thing I could control.
But he was my dad. He was there for me always, no questions asked. I could call him for advice about anything and I did, regularly. Dad things. Like what the hell is going on with these light bulbs I’m trying to buy (he knew lots about lighting)? Why is my car making this noise? My car broke down, I need help! This cop confiscated my truck when they gave me a ticket, and it’s your truck, can you come help me?
He walked me down the aisle. He was there lickity split to see my two babies.
The last thing I could write for him, was his obituary. I didn’t anticipate writing it for him when he was only 70. He just barely buried his father. I thought my dad would live to be at least 90 himself.
I think I could sit here and list forever the things he did for me, all that he taught me, how easily he loved me and became the father I needed and never once made me feel like I wasn’t his kid.
So. When he asked to be buried in a pine box and carried to the cemetery in an old truck, I thought, “That’s just like him. So dramatic!”
Can’t he just get buried in one of those elegant shiny things lined with silk?…but then I saw the actual elegance of the casket he’d asked for. It’s plain and understated and well made. Beautiful. A fitting resting place for him. Funerals in the time of covid are strange and awkward, but it made me extra grateful for the people who showed up to say goodbye.