Time Keeps Passing.

Posted on
Dec 12, 2016
33
Posted in: Personal Essay

The thing about time is that it moves on, even if you aren’t ready to.

My father died last week.

While I remain stuck, trying to grasp that fact, the days keep passing. I still hadn’t processed the statement “My father died today” or “My father died yesterday” before the clock had rendered them obsolete. Part of me wants to remain in The Before – to a week ago, or ever earlier, to a time when my father was still part of the world of the living, when his life was not something to be explained in the past tense.

But my father will never do anything in the present again. I grapple with this. He’s always been far away, so even the news of his death hasn’t really set in yet. My father isn’t missing from my home because my father has never been in my home. He hasn’t been to Seattle in close to twenty years, and so his presence here remains unchanged. His photo is on my wall, his letters are in  a file in my office. It’s only when I realize that I’ll never take another picture of him or receive another stamped envelope in the mail that it hits me. My father is part of the past.

 

I only cry when I’m reminded of this fact. Otherwise, nothing feels different.

Weird things set me off. I find a sheet of international stamps that will never be used, and I hold them tearfully. There goes another half hour. The last five days have marched on with surprising speed. Dad was always incredibly punctual; time has become weird without him in it.

* * *

The first time I see my mom after Dad died, she and I fight. She’s on the phone with someone from her internet company when I arrive, waving me into the house while pointing to the phone.

Can’t get off the line – sorry!

My dad died. I want a hug.

She doesn’t tell him she’ll call him back. She doesn’t tell him my father just died. She does hand the phone over to me, and I am unable to make sense of anything the kid on the line is saying. He thinks I am insane. He doesn’t understand why my voice keeps breaking. Mom’s computer is half-broken. Everything in her house is falling apart.

My dad died. I don’t want to talk to some kid in Phoenix about why the internet is broken.

I hand the phone back to her. After she gives up on the call, I yell at her for making me do tech support. I yell at her for asking me to do anything but cry. I storm out. She follows me and begs me not to leave. I tell her to leave me alone. I sit in my car. I call Rand, sobbing.

“It’s okay if you want to leave,” he says.

I don’t know how much time passes. I have to turn the engine on to start the heater because it’s literally freezing out. I go back inside.

I yell some more. I’ve never not been angry about this. I’ve only ever existed here, rageful, in her kitchen. She sort of yells back. My mother can make an apology sound like an accusation.

I remember that Dad was married three times. Mom has been married once. She doesn’t know what to do. She hadn’t seen him in nearly a decade. It seemed like there would be time to find some peace there. But the clock kept moving forward.

My parents in Rome in 1975. Or maybe 1976.

In the end, we both stand there in her disaster of a kitchen, crying, and I bury my face into her hair and she buries her face into mine and I realize how much smaller she is than me.

Then she starts cooking in her disastrous kitchen and I sit at a tiny table with her and talk about what she put in the mushrooms. She sends me home with a box of photos. I have been through nearly all of it. There are only a half dozen pictures of my dad in the entire lot so far.

* * *

Last night Rand and I were talking, and we both starting doing impersonations of my dad’s accent (Rand and I have been together for a decade and a half. Inside jokes get rather obscure and weird after that long.) We argued over the recipe – I thought it was one part east-coast-Jew, one part-German, one part-Russian, with a strange sort of William-Shatner-like cadence and always punctuated with either “fine” or “what the hell.” I thought that Rand’s impression sounds too much like Krusty’s father on The Simpsons. We have argued over who does it best. We each think that our impression is flawless.

But at some point Rand’s is so perfect that I ask him to stop.

“You’ll make me miss him too much,” I say. And then I realize that I’ll never hear my father’s voice again. We’ll never be able to perfect our impressions. There’s nothing to compare it to anymore.

I tell Rand how it’s weird that my father will never again answer another question that I ask him, and then we both sort of laugh because my dad never really did answer questions. He talked around them – something that I suppose, after years of working in U.S. Intelligence, became second nature. You gather information, you don’t give it out.

“He was one of the most mysterious people I think I’ve ever met,” Rand says. I can’t argue with this.

It was only in recent years that I really got to spend time with my father. Just one more thing that traveled offered: the opportunity to understand those closest to me. Rand would accept conference invitations to Germany whenever they came his way – “We can go see your dad,” he’d say. Without my husband, I don’t think I’d have known my father as well as I do. We didn’t get along when I was a kid. My dad didn’t know how to act around children. I suspect because he never really had a chance to be one himself.

 

But Rand was always quietly putting him into perspective for me.

“He doesn’t demand things of you,” he’d remind me. “He never expects you to do things a certain way. There are no strings attached.”

My father, for all his misanthropic qualities, was accepting of everything in my life. This was no small thing, and Rand understood this. I think that’s why my dad liked him so much.

“We’re going to be family soon,” my father said dismissively to Rand when my beloved and I were still dating. This wasn’t a statement of affection (my father didn’t make those). It was simply a statement of fact.

 

In his last few months, I took advantage of the guard he’d had to let down as a result of his illness.

“I love you, Dad,” I’d tell him.

Normally, my father’s response to this would be a simple, “Fine.” But in his last few months, it was, miraculously, this:

“I love you, too.”

I’m terrified that the memories I have now are the clearest they’ll ever be. From here on out, they’ll fade. I’m trying not to reduce his voice to a caricature of what it was. I’m trying not to rewrite the narrative of who my father was. As time passes, I don’t know how much of that I’ll be able to preserve.

“It always felt like time stopped in that village where he lived,” Rand said to me last night. “Each day lasted an eternity.”

I hope that was true for Dad, at least during his healthier days. I hope that my father had an eternity in that village. And I hope that in that infinite span of time, he even found an occasion to smile now and then.

For me, I’m just trying to get used to the clock moving forward without him.


Also published on Medium.

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  • paisleypenguin

    So sorry for your loss. I lost my father exactly two weeks before my birthday. I miss him every day. Sending virtual hugs.

  • Colleen Sweeney

    My grandpa died when I was 18. It happened six days after 9/11, so my soul and heart were already crushed to pieces. The part about never hearing your dad’s voice again hit me. His voice (my grandpa’s) sat in my head for a few years, and then disappeared. I found a Christmas video of him a couple of years ago and hearing his voice and seeing him before he was sick broke my heart. I lost the last letter with my grandpa’s handwriting, and I think you’re lucky to have them.

    I know you’re in a lot of pain, and I am keeping you and your family in my thoughts.

  • Bridget Foreman

    My dad died a month ago and it still is incredibly hard to know he is no longer here! Thanks for posting this…it helps to know you are struggling as well!

  • Mr. Tiny

    This is absolutely brilliant and tragic. My father died one year ago. He was the focus of our entire family; you capture exactly all the thoughts and feelings I had/have about wanting to hear him again and hoping that my memories of him don’t begin to fade immediately.

    Grief is the weirdest; it’s probably the most universal of human experiences yet it is so profoundly personal. The complexity of feelings can be absolutely unnerving at times but I know that your writing, your strength, and your husband will see you through it. I’m so sorry for your loss.

  • I’m so so sorry for your loss. Thanks for sharing.

  • J Tidrick

    G- I’m so sorry for your loss. Your posts about visiting your Dad have always been some of my favorites- I’ve never gotten over the one with the honey, and have always wished to have some of the sunflower bread his wife served to you for breakfast. Grief is a strange thing- it will hit you when you least expect it, and things like Father’s Day and his birthday will be sad for you. My father would have been 95 yesterday, he died 9 years ago, I still miss him, and always will

  • Anthropologal

    Big hugs. I’ve lost two step-dads that were a huge part of my life (one at 21 and one last year) and my biological dad died this year. The sadness hits you at the weirdest times.

    • Everywhereist

      Oh, man. I’m so, so sorry.

  • Massive love Geraldine. My dad unexpectedly died just over five years ago, and I miss his voice every day. The grief definitely gets less intense, but I still find myself stricken and crying when I least expect it. Sending you a huge hug xxx

  • Stacy Egan

    Beautiful post in memory to your father. I’m so so sorry for your loss.

  • DeannaNMc

    What a lovely tribute to your dad. Big hugs for you.

  • Anthony Skinner

    Thank you for the post; a wonderful tribute to your father. I understand, I miss my farther dearly. Could barely comment without getting all choked up and teary eyed.

    I’m sorry for your loss.

  • Mic Slaughter

    Sweetie. I have read & enjoyed your blog for years, but have never commented. I must speak up now & express my condolences. I am so sorry for the loss of your father. As a daughter whose realaionship with her father is fraught with complications, I get this. You are in my thoughts & thank you for sharing.

  • THL

    I don’t know you Geraldine, but I was touched by your post enough to want to write a brief message of support. It will get better. Even though losing a parent feels akin to a small part of you dying on the inside, you need to feel it in order to get through it. Oceans of good will and support in this very testing of times.

  • “It always felt like time stopped in that village where he lived,” Rand said to me last night. “Each day lasted an eternity.”

    I lost someone this week too, and it sounds like they lived in similar villages. This post really spoke to me, it’s a beautiful testament to your father. I’m sorry for your loss and I hope you’re holding up ok. <3

  • Josephine Robertson

    I cried reading this. There’s absolutely nothing any of us can say to make it make sense, but here we are all trying because we’re crazy human beings and that’s what we try to do: make sense. Thank you for sharing your Dad with us, for the stories and photos that have made me laugh, and for this too, because it’s all real. I’m sorry for the loss of your Dad in the now, I hope that for you he never really leaves it entirely.

  • What a beautiful portrait of your father, Geraldine. I’m in tears. I’m so sorry for your loss.

  • Cindy K

    Please accept my deepest Condolences for your loss. My Dad died a long time ago. Like you, I was not close to my Dad in a parent /child way, he was gone from our house by the time I was 12. At the end of his life we reconnected in a bizarre sort of way…we spent time playing Cribbage, drinking beer and he would tell me dirty jokes. When he passed, I realized that he would not do that anymore… and that struck me, hard. I am profoundly grateful we were able to reconnect. I hope that the time you were able to spend with him recently, will give you peace and comfort. My thoughts are with you and your family.

  • LC

    Hi Geraldine, I’ve been reading your blog for a few years. I wanted to creep out of the shadows to tell you that this is probably the most moving piece of writing I’ve ever read on your blog (and I’ve been close to tears on a few occasions, trust me). It was heart-breaking to hear about your Dad. Condolences to you and your family.

  • Zeid

    Your post moved me.

    I’m genuinely sorry for your loss.

  • Jenn P.

    Geraldine- You are SO talented. I can only assume that your father, however stoic, was immensely proud of the woman you are. This tribute to him is so lovely. I only needed four tissues to get through it so there’s that. I’ll be thinking of you and sending warm, loving thoughts towards you and yours.

  • Oh man, I’m so sorry. I know words from an internet stranger can’t make anything better, but I hope it helps just the tiniest bit to know we are out here sending you virtual hugs and support, and enjoying the gift of your writing. xoxo.

  • Tabitha Mills Dotson

    This internet “friend”, “stalker”, “creeper”, is really sorry for you loss. Your humorous writing has put a smile on my face many-a-time when I was down about life, I wish I could say something in return to ease your pain just a little.

  • I’m so sorry, Geraldine. I lost my father two years ago, and it was so hard. Sending you lots of love: <3 <3 <3

  • Mary Harnetiaux

    I am so sorry.

  • Rosie Clarke

    Sorry to hear this. You’re in my thoughts. Sending a virtual batch of comforting cookies your way.

  • I’m so so sorry for your loss. My dad passed away two years ago, and while the grief isn’t crushing me every day anymore, it does blindside me every now and then, and I find myself bursting into tears at a stray thought, or the way a character in a movie phrases something. But most days it is better, and I can miss him and think about him without being overwhelmed by it, and actually enjoy the memories. You will get there too, I promise.

  • Miu

    I am so sorry. My thoughts are with you.

  • Carly Hulls

    Oh GERALDINE! This is a beautiful dedication to him, sending love and virtual cupcakes your way (I’d send real ones if it wasn’t uber creepy to find out your address..). Big love to you and yours to get through this…day by day xxx

  • itstoospicy

    So very sorry for your loss, Geraldine. Love from Canada.

  • Downtonian

    Lost my dad 23.5 years ago and I still remember his laugh, his touch, the way he said my name and many nicknames… so many things about him. And yes, missing him will still bring me to tears but then I remember he’s still with me, always. I am so very sorry for your loss, Geraldine, but I’m SO glad you were able to spend time with your father and get to know him better. And for him writing back, “I love you, too.” That’s the last thing my dad ever said to me in person and I absolutely treasure that memory most of all.

  • Downtonian

    I have to add, that wedding photo of your parents looks like something out of a movie. They were an amazing pair to look at, and you greatly resemble them. No question of where you got your looks, your wit, your sarcasm, your temperament and so much else. I know they were/are both IMMENSELY proud of you, too!

  • OK, now I’m really weeping =(

    I’m so sorry, Geraldine. I somehow missed this happening last month with the chaos that’s been post-Nov. 8, and I would have hugged you that much harder when I saw you had I known.

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