My father died four years ago today. Traditionally I’ve posted a link to what I read at his funeral. I’d like to move on to new things, but I’ll link that for anyone who’s missed it and is interested:
After I got the word I finished washing the dishes. (I learned later my dad found out his mom died while washing the dishes and finished.) I got a pizza and took it to my dad’s, the home of his widow. I was utterly numb all this time, which I think is a common initial reaction. I made it to the house and sat at the kitchen table across from his wife and I think the first wave of grief reached me, it seems, simultaneously with me opening my mouth and saying “I don’t think I’ll write anymore.” That was my experience of discovering the giant void that suddenly arrived in my life with that loss. Not “How will I write?” but “I don’t think I’ll write anymore.”
This weekend I’ll be working on the second draft of the novel I wrote over the next four years, a novel I’d barely started when he died, a novel I wrote for him, more than I’ve ever written anything for any one person. I don’t remember how soon I started writing again. I’m not entirely sure how I managed to write a novel for someone who will with all certainty never read it, but I have a guess. I think he came back to life, for me, through my writing. One day I felt him walking up the steps of the porch where I was writing, of a house he’ll never visit.
What I’ve learned, what grief showed me, is that the great void you feel when you lose a loved one isn’t where you think it is. It feels like it’s in you, but through the long painful journey of grief you learn that void is still filled with memories and the force that relationship was in your life, but the void is still there, it’s just in front of you. It’s in the future. It’s far more manageable there but it still sucks. My dad will never read this book I wrote for him, but I absolutely couldn’t have written it without him. It brings him back for me. It always will, whatever happens to it, and if I can get the writing just where it needs to be, there’s a chance it will bring him back for my mom and sisters and, one day, his grandchildren. This will just be my experience, because I’m a writer, but you don’t have to write for this to happen. You just have to be human and keep living with the gifts that lost person left for you and share them.