Dad died today.
I’m surprised at how upset I am. This death was entirely expected. It was even wanted. He has been in such shitty shape for years; his life has been close to useless, to himself or anyone else, for months if not years. We’ve been on deathwatch for years, advanced deathwatch for months, super-advanced deathwatch for weeks. And yet when the call came, it still knocked the breath out of me. I was still only able to listen to my brother for about ten minutes before I had to get off the phone, that minute, that second, to call Ingrid and tell her to come home.
My moods today have been like weather on an unsteady day: pouring rain one minute, sunny ten minutes later, overcast and foggy ten minutes after that. I have stretches where I’m fairly calm and focused entirely on taking care of business — cancelling appointments, cancelling speaking gigs, notifying friends and colleagues — and then stretches where I’m crying and feeling overwhelmed with emotion, and then stretches where I’m in a daze, staring at walls, unable to decide even the smallest thing. These moods are entirely unpredictable. I don’t have any idea from minute to minute which I’m going to be feeling.
Packing to go home, I felt like Willow in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” in the episode “The Body,” the one where Buffy’s mom has just died. The scene where Willow is trying to figure out what to wear to meet her friend at the morgue. I kept staring at my closet, obsessively trying to pick the exact right clothes, feeling like everything in my closet was wrong: too snazzy, too fashionable, too flashy, too dressy, too official, too colorful, too sexy. I picked out the things that seemed to strike the right balance — calm, respectful, reasonably comfortable — and realized that all of it was black or gray. Too somber. Not right either. I spent way too much time and energy thinking about it. Funny how you can know you’re displacing, and still keep displacing anyway.
That “nothing is right” feeling. That applies to more than packing clothes. It’s how I’ve been feeling all day. No matter what I’m doing, it doesn’t feel right. When I’m falling apart, I think about all the business I need to be taking care of; when I’m taking care of business, I wonder how I can be so cold-blooded — hours, even minutes, after I learned that my father has died, and here I am calmly emailing about work matters. When I’m sitting quietly, I’m restless and want to be moving; when I’m walking, I’m exhausted and want to sit down. It’s been this way for a few weeks, actually, ever since Rick called to tell me Dad was in home hospice care, ever since the depression hit. But it was worse today.
At least today, though, I feel like I have permission. When Dad was just sick, when he was dying but we didn’t know that for sure, I couldn’t just give in to it. I couldn’t just fall apart and feel horrible. If I’d fallen apart every day that Dad might be dying, I would have spent the last five years falling apart. Now that he’s dead, it finally feels legitimate to fucking fall apart already. And then to get started putting the pieces back together.
Ingrid is being so patient. Every shift in mood, she follows. When I need to take care of business and bury myself in my computer, she buries herself in hers. When I fall apart, she holds me. When I jabber, she listens. When I stare into nothing, she holds my hand. Nothing in the world like someone who’s known you better than anyone, for close to fifteen years.
Ungenerous thoughts of the day: Now I can start planning my life again, without feeling like I have an anvil hanging over my head. Now I can start scheduling talks, conferences, etc…. without having this constant “I might have to cancel at the last minute” caveat in the background. Now I can definitely punt the deadline on the new book, and nobody will blame me or get mad at me. Now Ingrid and I can definitely go on our anniversary getaway in January.
I keep feeling like I’ve forgotten how to breathe. I keep feeling like I’ve been holding my breath. I keep feeling like I’m not getting enough air, like I have to take a deep breath, like my breathing has been shallow, like I have a band around my chest.
I am loving atheism right now. Atheism has been hard lately, what with the flying hate monkeys of misogyny and all. But today on my blog, and on Atheism Plus, and in my email inbox, and on Facebook and Twitter, everyone has been wonderful. Supportive, kind, compassionate, loving, insightful, gentle. And nobody is telling me comforting lies. Nobody is telling me that reality isn’t real. It is such a relief to have a space — to have more than one space, to have space in my blog and in Atheism Plus and in Facebook and in Grief Beyond Belief, and for that matter in my own godless family — where I can tell the truth about how I’m feeling, and know that it’s safe. It is such a relief to know that I have spaces where I can tell harsh truths about death and people won’t be shocked, where nobody will gaslight me with bullshit dressed as rainbow sparkles. As painful as it is, I would rather have the ground feel solid under my feet.
I also deeply love that I am getting intense, sincere, deeply compassionate condolence comments from people named Squiddhartha, and Randomfactor, and Alethea H. “Crocoduck” Dundee, and mildlymagnificent, and fullyladenswallow, and Tony, Prom King of Sunnydale High, and Setár, genderqueer Elf-Sheriff of Atheism+, and Zinc Avenger (Sarcasm Tags 3.0 Compliant), and WMDKitty (Always growing and learning). Sometimes I love the Internet. I love the unique blend of goofy, wild, flatly ridiculous creativity with serious-as-a-heart-attack seriousness. Hundreds of years from now, people will be analyzing Internet culture of the early 21st century and trying to make heads or tails out of it. I love being part of it.
That’s enough for tonight. Flying home tomorrow. I need to try to pretend to get some sleep.