On June 6th, 2013 I was having The Perfect Day. Or, rather, the most perfect day one can have when one has to go to work instead of lounging on the beach. I had woken well-rested which is always a miracle considering how late I go to bed and how little sleep I usually get. Having mentioned in passing to my husband that I really had to find a new quick breakfast as I was tired of toast and peanut butter every weekday, I was pleasantly surprised by his offer to make me eggs on toast instead.
Arriving downtown earlier than I really needed to, I decided to go a few extra stops and spend some time down at the waterfront, meditating and enjoying the view of the ocean for half an hour before heading to work. I sat and smiled as I watched a jellyfish hovering just below the surface next to a large ship. When the time came to walk back to the office I was relaxed and once I arrived I was pleased to find that it was fairly quiet; working in a contact centre usually meant call after call after call, so having a few minutes in between each beep in my ear and getting to chat with co-workers was a delight.
I very distinctly recall thinking to myself, “This is the most perfect day in a long time.” And the Universe chuckled. Or maybe it felt pity for me, knowing how I felt and knowing what was just about to happen.
A manager came to my desk and told me my husband had called and wanted me to call him back. I had a client on hold while I finished up some work for her and I decided to call him once I was done. Our oldest daughter had complained of a belly ache and although I knew he wouldn’t call a manager for anything silly I figured the worst possible thing was that he was taking her to the doctor and he needed me to come home to get our youngest from school. No big deal.
I finished up with my client. I called him back. Both kids were still at school; they were fine.
“Your mother called. Your father passed away this morning.”
I immediately started crying and said “oh my god,” and before the words had finished escaping my lips my co-worker had her arms around me, comforting me. Things blur after that. I remember that the manager took me to the wellness room where I could sit and cry without curious stares; I still feel bad for him, he was so kindly awkward, offering me words of sympathy and likely wishing it had been any other manager but him who had picked up that call.
My husband came to pick me up; I waited for him with his cousin who works with me and my sister miraculously met up with me on the sidewalk after she ran from her office to find me. She came to my house and we ate lunch and drank wine, and we cried and laughed and cried some more out on the back deck until her husband could come and get her.
We flew home the next day and spent almost a week in a whirlwind of arranging a funeral and visitation and choosing things that belonged to my father that we could bring home with us. It’s strange trying to pack all your memories of one man into a few wolf figurines, a pair of shot glasses, and a handful of books that I’ll probably never read.
I spent that week back home being The Wall, the strong person, the one who is clearly saddened and who cries but does not break down. It’s not because I consider tears a weakness, I just wanted to be the strong one for everyone else, so they would feel strong too. As someone with anxiety it’s also easier for me to have some sort of set guideline or purpose; if I could be the one to talk to the funeral director and sort out the details with the minister, that gave my brain somewhere else to be, somewhere besides a spiral of despair.
When I came back to my own home and my own family, I was finally able to let loose and fall apart. I had many good, hard cries: The first night home. The first day back at work after I had someone call in about a deceased client and I had to explain the paperwork procedures to them. The day I got my birthday card in the mail and it was signed with my mother’s name and the cat’s name; the space that should have held my father’s name was nothing more than a silent void.
And then life went on. At first I was annoyed and incredulous that everyone else’s life didn’t stop when my father’s stopped. But then my life carried on too. There were things that took up my time; work to do, games to play, chores to handle, books to read, yoga to do. It seemed almost too easy to set the grief aside. I felt guilty knowing that my mother didn't have that luxury since she woke up in their home every single morning without him, but the gift of distance blessed me with a lesser grief.
We had moved two provinces away so I had only seen my father once in the past three years when they came out for a visit our first summer in Halifax. The drive between Montreal and us was too much for him to do again and my mother is terrified to fly so I was accustomed to not seeing him. A stroke from two decades ago had affected part of his speech abilities so when I called home he listened on speakerphone while I talked to my mother but rarely spoke beyond a raspy “bye” when we were hanging up.
I was basically fine, other than the occasional hit to the chest when I’d think, “wow, Dad would love this book/movie/recipe, I should tell him about… oh.”
Then I started to notice something. As we crept ever closer to the month of June, to the date of the anniversary of his death — and really, is there not a better word that someone can create for commemorating something so sad, something other than the oh-so-cheery “anniversary” please? — he was on my mind more and more. The sadness and the grief increased. I noticed a spike in my anxiety levels despite my near-daily practice of meditation and my regular movement in the form of yoga, running, or other exercise.
And now here I come, full circle. It is once again the day that he died, and I still don’t have a father. My heart and my head are fully aware that no, the reason I can’t see him is not solely because he’s two provinces away. I am aware that no, he’s not just sitting at the table listening to me talk to my mother. I am aware that no, he’s not looking up apartments for rent in the Halifax area, desperately trying to figure out how to move out here to be close to his daughters and granddaughters.
He’s not there. He’s gone.
They always say that it hurts less with time. I’m sure that eventually it will. They never told me, though, that before it hurts less it will hurt more. It will hurt so much more.