[I expect sometime soon someone will tell me to stop processing this experience in this fashion…or to organize it in such a manner that it makes sense. But for now, I share with you my 30 minutes of writing in a manner organized for my mind only in hopes that something here is of value to others.]
Sheryl thoughtfully reflected in her own missive marking the end of sheloshim for her husband,
I have learned that I never really knew what to say to others in need. I tried to assure people that it would be okay, thinking that hope was the most comforting thing I could offer.
My brilliant mentor and friend, Carolyn, while dealing with the unexpected loss of people important to her added a simple but impactful reminder,
Life is short, create memories.
Both of these things were in the background of my experience when many in my life began commenting on “Father’s Day” and its importance to me. Many worried or expressed concern that it was coming and would likely be a hard time for me.
To each person who did reach out, thank you, and similar thanks if you didn’t reach out. That is truly not the point. I draw so much from so many of you every day without you knowing by connecting in to your lives through this platform; the only way I know to give back to this collective energy is to write about it. And in doing so I share my experience.
[For the record; I wrote a separate four paragraphs that have been removed which talk about the art of selling here which, while applicable, have been edited out and staged for a separate commentary…]
What has really mattered to me as I have navigated the before, during and after of my father’s death —
I have a new or renewed belief that I am cared for by people around me.
I have struggled my whole life to understand my value in the relationship I have with others, privately. While that fact may be surprising, believe me, on the darkest of nights my value is the thing I first question and on the brightest of days that care feels most ephemeral of all the resources I can call upon. It is neither questionable or ephemeral. It is absolute and I’m beginning to trust that. I will work throughout my life to believe in the words I have just written.
So how did Father’s Day turn out?
To be honest, Father’s Day was never a “thing” in my family, nor was “Mother’s Day.” Nor was “Sister’s Day” or “Unmarried Gay Son’s Day.” As my nephew put it, it was a “phone call holiday.” For me, in some cases, the expression of concern actually caused me more angst then the date itself:
“What am I missing? Should I be sad? Why am I not feeling that way? Oh god, I’m a terrible son…it’s Father’s Day and I haven’t laundered my black gown and long sleeved gloves for the…”
What I have learned is that you cannot confine or concentrate your love, hate, joy, or grief in to any one moment or day or action and the more you try to do so, the less significant your impact becomes relative to its intention. (Hello, how many marriage saving attempts are made on Valentine’s Day?)
Try it. Try to feel all your pain, right now! Try to feel all your joy, right now! Now, instead, spread all the joy and life-giving energy of a single 15 second uncontrollable laugh and spread it out across the year, your life, whatever. Does it feel the same?
I posted about a reaction to the Father’s Day cards I saw at Starbucks the other day and was woeful in tone. My thought process had nothing to do with Father’s Day at all though. If I do my best to recall the thought process, it was something like:
“I remember I loved working at Starbucks, what made me happy when I worked there, did PSK really understand my career now when he died and why I devote myself to it, was he proud of me? Did he know that I worked at Starbucks in college? Have I ever been to a Starbucks with my dad? I wonder if that shitty place on Meridian is still around that made him those atrocious 5-shot mochas he used to order? What an idiot he was, gross!! Oh my god, I can’t call him to tell him that.”
And then I cried…because of that cacophony of thought. And not at all because of Father’s Day.
Utter chaos and things I expect no other person to understand but me. Explaining all of that to anyone that wasn’t my complete copy would be impossible. As would the micro moments since he’s died where a brief tear has formed which felt like a lifetime or the major moments when in private, I throw something to the ground in anger and yell and scream at…the unacceptable predictability of life.
So Father’s Day has and will likely always remain a non-issue for me.
What I continue to struggle with and what I cannot yet seek or ask support for looks a little more something like this:
“WHAT THE FUCK MATTERS IN ALL OF THIS, WHY DO I THINK I HAVE FOUND ANY ANSWERS, CAN I TRUST THIS, CAN I TRUST MYSELF, DO I KNOW HOW TO SURVIVE THIS WAY WITHOUT HIM, DO I KNOW THAT I CAN WORK BEYOND THE FLAWS OF THE HISTORY I KNOW AND MY IMPRETATION OF WHAT I THINK I WAS BEING TAUGHT, CAN I PLEASE BE GIVEN THE GRACE TO HELP JUST A FEW PEOPLE AVOID MY OWN TREMBLES AND TRIALS, HOW DO I KNOW THAT I AM DOING ENOUGH WHEN HE IS NOT THERE TO TELL ME IT ISN’T?”
There is no question anyone could ask which would reveal the complexities of the experience nor emphasize the support and compassion I know people feel in their heart. My faith supplies comfort there…in that I cannot see but know to be true.
So when we don’t know, we do our best . Instead of “This must really suck; I can’t imagine what I’d do/be like in this situation” we say “it’ll get better” or “hope you’re doing okay.” We cannot assure this.
We say things like, “I was going to X, but recognizing it is Father’s Day (implied: and your recent loss), I’ve made Y adjustment” instead of “Our plan is A and there may be some tough parts, we’ve got your back if needed.” We try to replace reality with something else, instead of grounding in things that can be known when so much is uncertain.
I received a lot of “hope you’re okay” messages and I paused, felt touched by their intent. And in every message I felt love. But had my ever present gut taken over, the “hope you’re okay” messages would have been read as, “and if I’m not? What are you going to do about it?”
The connection that made me take pause, but not for the reasons the sender assumed, was this:
“Thinking about you today. Big hug. I know the range of emotions you are going through. Be good to yourself.”
…and this is not a relationship I would call thriving or even super connected these days. But it does stand on a foundation of love. Without going in to more, this response made me see possibility…because in that response this person demonstrated the best of my hopes for him and what I always believed: that he was, at the core, a compassionate, loving, thoughtful man.
Some things I need to explore are these “thoughts” in summary of this:
1. Demonstrate compassion without overreaching. Allow some forgiveness, and remind of the normal operating model.
2. State your understanding, but don’t fill in the blanks with assumptions.
3. Emphasize empathy but only if it makes sense. Don’t presume.
So that’s it. I see all of this examination, unclear thinking, and chaotic reprocessing as such an amazing gift from my father. It may not make sense in words…I’ve yet to figure out how to tell my story. But where it does make sense is in the extension of my heart to a capacity that I don’t understand and don’t know how to manage quite yet which is helping me to see the best possible person I can be and a path to get there. And that, in no way my father could ever have taught me while alive, is the gift I received this Father’s Day.