I find myself, almost to my embarrassment, bringing my dead Dad into conversation. Sometimes it fits neatly, other times it’s like putting pineapple on pizza, it doesn’t belong. To give you a lively example, I might be waiting to check out at the grocery store and the lady behind me in line might start talking about the particular brand of canned tomatoes she bought and why she prefers them. Her comment might go something like, “Oh I love Progresso’s canned whole tomatoes, they are the best! My sister keeps using the store brand and I keep telling her they taste too sweet!” She then might look at me expecting either an agreement or another wildly entertaining comment on say, canned green beans. Cut or French Style, which is better? I give neither. Instead I squawk out, “Oh, you like Progresso huh? Well my dad had these shirts that read in great bold letters ‘Question Authority’ and he had them in damn near every color.” The lady would then cock her head to the side and instead of shutting my mouth as I should, I would continue, “Yeah, he had a lot of them. I think his favorite one was the red one. I mean I don’t know that for sure but I have two pictures of him wearing the red one so clearly it had some appeal.” At this point the lady would give me a “are you crazy?” glance and possibly start checking other lines to see how long they are. She might even rightly ask, “But what in the hell does that have to do with tomatoes?!” I’ll sigh heavily and turn back around to face the front and mumble, “Nothing.” In truth though it has everything to do with it. Death and tomatoes go hand in hand.
When I started grieving my dad, I began to notice the empty spaces. The places that were once filled unknowingly with the vibrancy, the life or just the knowledge of this particular person or that particular person was here, alive, walking the earth with you. Though the canned tomatoes have nothing directly to do with my dad’s love of t-shirts printed with snarky and smart-ass quotes, they are related. Both the tomatoes and my dad’s Question Authority shirt are red. This is the way my mind works. That’s enough of a common thread to get my mind going. Simple things remind me of him. Today as I sat taking my break outside of the bakery, I glanced down and saw a bit of a green leafed plant poking through the dirt. It’s weary head lifting to the sky as if to say, “Holy Shit! What a winter!” And the plant’s right of course. In that brief encounter with the small budding greenery, my mind flashed back to a summers day about 1 year ago. My husband and kids, along with my brother Zach and sister-In-Law Tracey and their two children were out visiting at my folks house. My dad was taking photos with his new phone and having religious debates with my husband. He also had just bought some new and quite dreadfully ugly glasses. As one of my brothers stated on Facebook, “They look like Bono from U2 donated them to him”. My dad was so proud of them, he kept saying they were “really cool” and he’d smile at me or whoever was around and I’d smile back and nod in agreement even though I thought they were hideous. In fact we all lied to him and told him how great he looked in them, after a fair share of ribbing of course. I don’t know why we all felt the need to tell him they were great, as if a small disagreement on style was more than this one legged Vietnam vet could take.
As quickly as I flashed into memory, I flashed back into present. Every day it’s flashes. We try to prepare ourselves for death, as if it will somehow shield us from it’s devastating impact. We might think as we look lovingly at Aunt Jill or Uncle so and so that we are really going to miss their laugh because it is so infectious. Isn’t it bob? And Bob nods, smiles and agrees. There are little habits the dearly loved one does that you tell yourself you’ll miss like mad. And you do, Oh, yes, you do. But it has been the subtler things that have taken me by storm. It’s the bird on the tree outside the bedroom window, a piece of lint found in the pocket, a child playing, an old man crossing the street. It is the things, places and people that seem to have no real connection that will in one instant bring you from laughter to tears, and from tears back to laughter.
This is the first real heavy loss I have had in my life. Both of my Grandpas are dead, they lived long rich lives and so I took their deaths differently, I felt it was their time and I had the convenience to be their Grandchild and not their wife. I have been acquainted with people who have died, though not close to them. I have sat with people in AIDS homes while they died because no one was there to be with them; I have held HIV positive babies in my arms knowing they will not live to see another month, week or day, all of these experiences helped prepare me for the cold wet slap in the face that death is, but in truth, I never saw death coming. None of us do.
These ‘flashes’, help me cope and they do bring me joy. One day Your t-shirt though directly related to my dad’s clothing choice might cause me to bring up menthol cigarettes, even though the most logical and progressive step would be the shirts. Perhaps this is also a knee jerk reaction to making sure everyone knows who my dad is and was, and not just that, but plainly that people know he WAS. My Grandma told me that after my Grandpa died, people were afraid to bring him up for fear of causing her pain. Sadly not talking about him made it seem like he never existed at all. So, maybe subconsciously I’m making sure that people know he was here.
Whatever the case may be for my strange little processing mind, should you or I begin a conversation about, oh, socks, and in the middle of it I squawk out “Warty Toads!”, just know that in someway toads and socks are related.