The phone rang this morning: it was Rick, and my first thought was terrible alarm. “Is Dad okay?” Then I remembered. It’s weird. For so long now, Rick’s ringtone has meant, “Is this the call, the one telling me Dad is dead?” I wonder how long it’s going to take for that to change.
I keep having stretches where I feel relatively normal, like I could just get on with my life without much problem… and then I feel guilty, like I’m not giving Dad his due. Then I have stretches where I’m dazed, numb, paralyzed, unable to make even the smallest decisions… and then I feel dumb, like I’m over-reacting to something that was completely unsurprising and indeed something I’ve been welcoming. No matter what emotion I’m having, it seems to be accompanied by a self-conscious meta-emotion, feeling like whatever I’m feeling is wrong.
I know. There’s no timetable. There’s no one right way to grieve. Everyone does it in their own way. Well, apparently my way is “self-consciously, and wondering if I’m doing it right.”
I think the bottom line is this: My dad is dead. No matter what is happening, it’s going to feel wrong.
I’m having a hard time with some very weird decisions. Like whether to put my bra on first, or my jeans. I have a tendency to do that anyway, even when I’m not grieving: I’m an over-thinker, and I’ll often spend more time thinking about the most efficient way to do something than it would have taken to just pick one way and do it. But this tendency is now dialed up to eleven. And it’s focused on incredibly trivial shit. Every decision feels fraught, loaded with symbolism and meaning. It reminds me a little of when Ingrid and I were planning our wedding, and we couldn’t make a decision like “cloth tablecloths or paper?” without feeling like it was communicating some great truth about our relationship and our values and our future together. It reminds me a little of that… except in a horrible, depressing, fucked-up way.
Today we — me, Ingrid, and Rick — went to see my dad’s wife Caroline, and sat in their apartment. Her apartment. I don’t know what pronoun to use. It was weird: this was the apartment I grew up in, the apartment I lived in from third grade until I left home, and it felt weird. Alien. Not like home. It’s been somewhat like that for some time: the physical space itself is very different from how it was when I lived there, and it has been for a long time, and it’s had that surreal “home but not home, familiar but not familiar” feel for a while. But it was much more like that today. It was hard not to keep remembering all the times Rick and I had sat there in the last few years. Which, to be blunt, weren’t all that different from today: Dad hadn’t been able to really communicate for a long time, so when I went home to visit, Rick and Caroline and I would sit in the living room and talk and watch TV, with Dad there in the room sitting and vaguely listening. Everything was happening around him and without him, even though he was the whole reason I was there. So it was like that today… except without Dad. Almost the reverse of how it was before: before it was like he wasn’t there even though he was, and today it was like he was there even though he wasn’t. Plus, today Rick and I would occasionally pause the conversation to look over Dad’s books and art, and decide what we wanted to hang on to. Plus, this was the room where Dad had his hospital bed for the home hospice care. This was the room where he died. So there was that. There were long stretches when it felt almost normal, just reminiscing and shooting the shit… and at the end of the afternoon I was exhausted.
Of course, now I have a stupid second wind, and am wide awake. Had a big slice of gooey chocolate something at a cafe, which I knew was a bad idea and would keep me awake; but I’m trying to be kind to myself and not resist small comforts, and a slice of gooey chocolate something at the cafe seemed comforting. Which it was, to be honest. Also, the counter guy at the cafe was really nice. Kept giving us sample spoons of gelato flavors: basil, pistachio, salted caramel, lavender, mocha, guava, Butterfinger. One of the things about having my emotions dialed up so high is that small kindnesses seem huge. I don’t know if he could tell we were having a bad day, or if he was flirting, or if he was bored, or if he was just a nice guy. But the little free tastes of gelato two and a half days after my dad died… I was touched by it, all out of proportion. I have a suspicion that I’m going to remember that for a while.
I’ll leave it at that for tonight.