When you almost lose a parent

I’ll never forget the phone call. Phone calls become land mines in the future, post parental (almost) death. Some are completely harmless, and some will blow your life up. I’ve had to train my father in the last decade to please know exactly what he’s going to say before he calls. Because if I pick up the phone and I find him on the other end, searching for words, my stomach drops, heat rises past my clenched heart, through my closing throat and boils in my face. Everything around you slows, almost stops, like it did that night when I was in the eye of the tornado, crossing 9th Avenue.

Almost losing a parent will keep a guillotine blade hovering over your neck, after it has fallen but stalled, inches from your skin. The fear and pain, I can only assume, are as close as you get to the real thing, without the grief of deaths finality. The trauma will keep it fresh. It will be accessible as if it happened only yesterday, and lives only inches from your heart. You can check on it, still there, and in an instant be reminded of how deep that sorrow is. You don’t really heal because you know that at any moment, the rope that so precariously holds everything together is fraying with every passing day, and will eventually break.

Other people’s tragedies will find their way to you with ease. The broken landscape of your heart will be a safe haven for those who are hurting They will look into your eyes and see the familiarity of what they’re feeling. It will be a lot to take on, to feel all those losses. You’ll become a best friend, and you’ll feel like a fraud. Because you will sit with them and listen in their days of shock and awe. You’ll know when to say just the right thing, and nothing at all. But then they’ll leave you, and embark on the next phase of their grief, a place you don’t yet know and can’t understand. They will come to terms with their loss and you will stay blindfolded in front of the firing squad.

But the upside will be priceless. You will become more present for mundane conversations than most people are for milestone events. You will laugh until you cry with each other, and sometimes, you will cry until you laugh. You will take your time with each other, you will remind yourself to be patient, to be kind. You will know the value of a moment. You will become abundant with gratitude. And this will spread to all people you love, and all relationships you lead.

And the catch is this; you know how much it hurts, and how much more it’s going to hurt now that you’ve had all this extra time, this gravy, this icing on the cake. There are vacations, conversations, arguments at dinner, and bouts of hysterical laughter that have enriched your life. Times that almost didn’t happen. So you simultaneously cry tears of joy about what you didn’t lose and tears of fear for what you might never get.

But love and pain are the answers to one another. We all get ripped off if we get lucky enough.

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