“I’m fine.” I don’t know how many times I have said that over the last 6 weeks since my father died. My father died. Those words still seem odd to say. Odder still that they flow trippingly off my tongue as if I were simply recounting where we went for summer vacation.
It is a well-established fact that I am a regular crier. I excel at crying. Happy tears, sad tears, exhausted tears, frustrated tears, nostalgic tears. They have all been a part of my weekly repertoire for 38 years. Sappy commercial? Check. Wistful memory of the boys when they were babies? You bet. Random song on the radio? Yup. Hard day? Too tired? Proud parental moment? Bad blisters? Yes, yes, yes, and yes. You name it, I have cried because of it.
But since July 3rd, I have shed only a handful of tears.
In some ways, the last six weeks have been the easiest of my life. My brother and I are living with my mom again, recreating the lazy summer days of our youth. Only this time we’ve brought along a husband, two kids, a fiancee and a beagle who eats anything that is perilously close to the counter’s edge. The boys and I have no schedule, no commitments, no expectations. We wake up every morning and go where our impulses take us. The grown-ups sit outside at night, watching the moon light a path on the river and laugh with each other. We haven’t had to cook a meal for 6 weeks because of the generosity of our friends.
It’s almost easy to forget what happened. That I heard my mom scream. That I saw my dad lying on the ground. That I watched my husband and brother try in vain to do CPR. That I lay down in bed with my hysterical child. That I lied to him and told him everything was going to be okay when I knew in my heart it wouldn’t. That we rode for 45 minutes behind an ambulance to a hospital knowing what was waiting for us. That we called our family and friends and relived that moment over and over again. And that was just in the first 18 hours.
Then came the flood of friends and food and flowers and letters. Hundreds of letters – some perfunctory, some eloquent tomes. Beautiful letters from friends we have known for 40 years and from complete strangers who were compelled to share with us the amazing ways in which my father changed their lives. Letters filled with funny anecdotes, heartrending expressions of personal loss, and tributes to the man that my father was.
As I read these letters, I was absolutely unable to appreciate the enormous void in my own life because I could only feel the the intense loss these hundreds of other people were experiencing. The theme running throughout all of them – from his boyhood friends to his brand new associates – was simple: I needed more time with him.
And therein I found my answer.
My mother, brother and I had him every day of our lives. He taught us how to write well and think critically and love to learn. We sat up late with him, reading books, watching movies or discussing the origins of the Progressive movement in American politics. He taught us card tricks and bad jokes. We stood in the kitchen and talked while he washed the dishes every night. He humored us when we begged him again and again to tell us stories about growing up in the 50’s, antics from boarding school, Yale in the ’60’s, courting my mother, and what we were like as kids. We laughed as he navigated roundabouts in Scotland or butchered the Italian language just to find the hidden restaurant we were looking for in Rome. We saw him come in the door with my mother after a night out, kiss her on the forehead and tell her she was the prettiest girl in the room. He taught us that the only things we had to fear were intellectual laziness and moral equivalency. When we came to him for advice, he didn’t give us the answer (even though he knew it); he helped us come to the answer on our own. We had decades of his love, his wit, his counsel, his unwavering support, his presence.
We. Had. Everything. And that means we are fine.
Every once in awhile, usually late at night, my mind begins to drift. I think about how the world has been robbed of something so good that it should spin off of its axis. Or how my children will never know him the way I did. Or how so many of our dreams died that July night. And I physically can’t breathe. In those moments, I go back to the box of letters and read them anew. The letters that I will show my boys one day so that they will know my dad. The letters that remind me to count my blessings for every moment of the 38 years, 1 month and 25 days that I had with him. Because everyone else only got a fraction of that.
And I realize that I am fine. I am better than fine. I’m the luckiest girl in the world.