So, if you read my last column, you know my dad was killed by an errant driver right before Christmas. That was a hard column to write, typed up the day after in one go as I was overwhelmed by sadness. This here column, though, is much, much harder to write, because I've pretty much been doing nothing. I've had a lot of small field trips in the last couple of weeks, but my ability to remember them has all but vanished. I think this might be part of grief—the swallowing up of the rest of things as the mind and body ride this particular big wave.
And yet life goes on. I already knew it intellectually, but it has become abundantly more clear and materially real to me that all of us are going to die someday. For me, though, as I type this, that day is not today. Yet. If my dad's death has taught me anything—and these are lessons I would have gladly waited to learn, just to be clear—it's that I best get right with death, make friends with it, integrate a relationship to it into my life right now, because it's all around me all the time, and it'll take me too. That doesn't mean I need to be thinking about death all the time, but I think my dad was right—we should be preparing for it rather than fearing it. So I've done what he was doing—picked up the "Tibetan Book of the Dead" and started making my way through it, and already I am meeting him there.
Great plan, sure, but it presupposes I have the ability to concentrate for longer than a few minutes on any one thing, and I don't. In between the few minutes I can read this book is the rest of life, and here are some of the things I think I vaguely remember doing in the past couple of weeks.
I went to New York for a few days with my sister. We flew first class to get there, something neither of us had ever done before. She had some extra cash and decided to throw some of it at the airline industry to see if it would help, and it absolutely totally did. We got two cushy seats next to each other where we could cry without bothering any seatmates. We were served meals on trays that suggested some sort of balance, and the dessert tasted like a Ding Dong. We got wine in real glasses that we sipped as we watched the second Thor movie on our private televisions next to each other (no idea what that movie was about, but it was perfect), and it was such a relief to be away from everything that I wished the plane could make another turn and then another, never landing again.
But as my father always said, what goes up must come down, and down we came, landing at JFK airport for a long ride to Brooklyn in her girlfriend's car, their kid ranking every pop song that came on the radio on his own 2015 top 10 list as big tears rolled silently down my face. It was one of many moments of cognitive dissonance since my dad died—the mundane, the boring, the cheerful right alongside these deep crevasses of grief.
I spent a few days in New York. I went to the zoo and watched red pandas play. I visited a friend who I know from our days of quitting smoking together on an internet support site chat board 10 years ago. We'd met only one time in person, but when she offered a bottle of champagne, chocolate, and to share her stories of losing her mother at Christmastime, I jumped at the offer. I went to the new Whitney Museum and felt a different kind of dissonance brought on by the all-white crowd taking in the Archibald Motley exhibition as the all-black museum guard staff looked on. And then we went inside Macy's after Christmas and I found my limit—time to head home.
I treated myself to a train ride back to Baltimore, another excellent use of funds if you've got them. I was so nervous to get back here, scared to be alone in my house with my grief. But then I was here, and it felt so good to climb into the clean sheets the ladyfriend left on the bed. I stayed there for hours and hours reading, playing mindless games on my phone, answering the door to an Edible Arrangement from a dear friend—totally absurd, but without it I'm not sure I'd have eaten anything in the last week of December—and to flowers from other friends, and a pizza.
I managed to get back on my bike and ride in traffic with cars without losing my shit. I had drinks with friends, went out to lunch, went to the movies. I went to the grocery store and cooked dinner and planned my winter class and got back to teaching. All of these things are so ordinary, but doing them feels extraordinary right now. Grief is quicksand. Every move takes longer than usual, but I can move, and I keep moving, so there you go.
My last big field trip before filing this column was my first post-dad-death therapy session. I was really looking forward to this one. Maybe she'd have some insight, a CBT worksheet that would help, something. I hear you're supposed to see a therapist after a tragic event like this, so look at me, doing what you're supposed to do. It turned out to be the least helpful therapy session I've had, and I've had a lot of them. Thing is, there's nothing to "do" right now except to let the feelings pass through, the sadness, the anger, the joy, the pleasure, the frustration—all of it. There might be something to do later, but right now, nothing. And that is its own kind of relief.