My Dad Is Dead. Please Don’t Make It Weird.
Someone once described grief as a ball in a box, an analogy now familiar to many. It’s as though grief is a ball inside a box, along with a pain button. In the immediate aftermath of a loss, the grief ball is large, and it hits the pain button often and easily. But as time passes, the grief ball shrinks, and it hits the pain button less often — but it still hits it.
Or, as I have so eloquently put it in the aftermath of my father’s death, grief is dumb, in that its impact often feels random. A bad day can come on suddenly and unpredictably, spurred by something mundane. You can sit with the new reality of someone’s absence and be okay until you’re reminded of them and the monumental shift their loss has caused.
I think of him often — when I listen to the music I may not love if not for him, when my family makes plans to celebrate a birthday at a restaurant, when a certain look passes over my niece’s eyes and for a split second, she looks just like him. When I realize, for nowhere near the first time and nowhere near the last, that he and my son will never know each other.
I share anecdotes of him the way I would anyone else, expecting the sort of reaction I would get from a story about anyone else. Instead, I’m often met with silence, and I fill in the blanks with pity. I feel as though the energy is sucked out of the room and that people are afraid to acknowledge the reality myself, my mother, and my brother live with daily, that he’s dead, and that they don’t know how to exist in the same space as someone who’s lost a parent.
When I mention my dad — and I will — keep the conversation going. You can do it without focusing on his death. Say something. Anything. Smile and laugh when I share a funny story. Sympathize when I mention his flaws and missteps. Don’t make me feel like I have to change the subject, that I’ve stumbled and need to adjust course, that mentioning him in conversation is something to avoid lest it make someone else uncomfortable.
Death and grief changes those of us left behind, but the deceased aren’t erased from our memories — or our conversations.