Time stopped functioning properly, for me anyway, the day in late February when I got the phone call from my mom.
“The Phone Call”, as it were, since it seems that this particular sort of call is nearly always referred to in verbal capital letters. The minute one speaks that phrase with a particular intonation, it is instantly understood, at least in North American culture, what one is referring to.
Monday afternoon, February waning; my phone ringing. Then: Dad was in hospital; what was to come in the immediate future was uncertain, but perhaps I ought to get a plane ticket and fly “home” in the next day or two.
For the next few weeks, I would find myself pondering at odd moments, the quirk in our psyches that sometimes has adult children equating “home” with the house where Mom and Dad are living, regardless of extraneous facts such as where we grew up, how long we did (or did not, in my case) live in that particular house, etc. Mom lives there, Dad has his favourite chair there; family celebrations are held there. It’s Home, a Platonic Form of all things safe and loved, all things family and belonging.
I listened to my mom’s voice, did the usual daughterly calculations, and decided the heck with waiting for a plane flight, I was going to leave now, as in as soon as I could pack up my little green Bug and get out on the road.
Less than two hours later, I was in the Bug and on the highway headed for central Illinois. The next evening, I was with my mom and sister at the dinner table, grateful to have skipped the horror of the security lines at Pearson International (Toronto) Airport, the indignities of seating arrangements that force one into unwanted intimacy with strangers for hours on end. The following three days were days of Grace, precious hours spent with Dad before he peacefully slipped away into that green, sunlit valley on the other side, on the morning of March 3.
This may sound ridiculous, but I found the following a steadying thought in the days that followed: I had never lost a parent before, and thus I literally had no idea what to expect, how to feel, what to think, what to do and when to do it. The flip side of this thought was this: No one expects you to know what to do, or behave a certain way, or follow some set of unwritten precepts. Again and again, I heard people around my mom and my sisters and I say things like: “It’s OK, don’t worry, everyone grieves in their own way, and there’s no right way to do it.”
I also was truly grateful for the space given to those who are mourning: Of course there will be times of tension. Of course there are bound to be emotional outbursts out of proportion to the mundane tasks at hand. Those who mourn are granted a certain freedom, a certain social permission to not be Socially Correct for a while. That graceful acknowledgment by those around us of the enormity of what we were going through was deeply comforting during these days, weeks, and beyond, of adjusting to the new reality of Dad Is Gone.
I’m still in shock. I know that, and those around me know it. I notice that I am avoiding writing (or speaking) about Dad himself, about anything too close to home, as it were. None of this is quite real to me yet. However, there is still the memorial service to get through, so perhaps I am to be allowed a bit of self-muffling, a certain degree of numbness, in order that I can do what is, perhaps, one of the most important jobs of Daughters, of Sons, at such a time: Supporting Mom through these days of public grief, just being there to add whatever comforts I can add to my mother’s already formidable reserves of strength.
As I say: Time isn’t working properly at present. Not for me, not yet.
I am infinitely grateful that this is a rather normal and to-be-expected symptom of grief. I know there are no rules, but it is reassuring to know that others have gone before me on this journey, this odd, timeless, chaotic journey after a loved parent has died, and what’s more, that those others have not only gone before me, but come out the other side, to the place where the clock starts running normally again, to the place where grief becomes a living memorial to Dad, instead of an island, remote and frozen, where time stops because the unthinkable has happened, and all the bits in one’s heart and soul have to stop what they are doing and rearrange themselves for the next season of life, the time where the clock ticks on, but clicks on with one parent instead of two.
My sisters and I have already informed Mom in not-completely-joking terms, that she, of course, is Not Allowed to Die. Yet. Not for a long while, we hope.
I, myself, need more time with her before that particular time change occurs.
Those of you with fathers still here on earth: Please call your dad tonight, or hug him if he is nearby. (Same goes for mothers, of course. Kiss ’em if you got ’em.) This bit of time and connection will cost you so little; it will be priceless someday.
I do have some lovely knitting to show off, but now is not the time. I
hope know you will understand.