I knew my father had died 3 years before he actually did. He had been having health problems, none of which were life-threatening, and a long, overwhelming bout with depression that neither psychotherapy or drugs could cure. My mother had gone out to eat with a friend, for a break, and she asked me to have dinner with my dad to keep him company. I remember we went out to an Italian restaurant he had always liked; he ordered risotto.I don’t’ remember what I ate.
After dinner I went back with him to the apartment that he and my mom shared. Knowing his love for music, particularly “Der Fledermaus”, I suggested we put it on. He didn’t want to. I was absolutely shocked and I had no idea why; I didn’t understand. I grew up in a household where “Der Fledermaus” a Viennese operetta was played so often I could sing portions of it myself. We lived in an apartment house and I could hear the music the minute I stepped off the elevator and all through the hallways. I remember ringing the bell and no one would answer, not because they weren’t home but because you couldn’t hear the bell over the ridiculously loud and embarrassing music. Often, my dad was seen conducting the “orchestra” with a pointer, whistling happily and in perfect pitch.
This operetta had always been his joy, his one sure thing. He loved this music so much that it was a part of his soul. After much persuasive nagging and encouragement he finally put it on the stereo. The stereo that had arrived in 1,000 tiny pieces that he and I had put together many years ago, one bolt, one screw, one piece of lumber at a time. With the music on now, I thought his mood would definitely brighten. It didn’t. I wanted to do anything that might make him happier, to see even a ghost of a smile. I asked him if he wanted to dance, remembering how he would beg me to dance with him when I was much younger. He stood there. I looked at him, incredibly naiive, and said” you used to love this music,” “It always made you so happy!” and he replied slowly” I don’t feel anything anymore.” I looked in his dull blue- gray eyes and saw no joy, no hint of happiness, I saw nothing.He turned and took the record off the turntable with robotic movements.
I asked him how long he wanted me to stay and he literally looked at his watch and said I should leave at 10pm even if my mom wasn’t home.It was 9:45pm. I couldn’t believe that he even looked at his wristwatch, another Holy Grail for him, that he would coordinate, to the second with a voice recording on the telephone, but he did. He didn’t want me there anymore. When I hugged him good-bye, he looked directly in my face and said “when you leave here, be happy.” The utter shock of that statement, along with the night’s experience, felt like a ferocious blow to my stomach and had shattered my heart. I remember twisting the doorknob and leaving, splaying myself on the outer wall, I was crying so hard I could barely breathe.
It was a memory that to this day, 8 years later, I cannot forget. My tears are rolling down my cheeks so fast now that I can’t take a breath, my crying is loud and the pain is raw. I told a friend who had just lost a parent, that it got easier, with time; now I feel like I liedto her. It doesn’t get easier, it just seems that way because the grief wells up less often. I can literally feel my own dull red, pumping heart being smashed into pieces all over again, not that it ever healed perfectly. You tell people it gets better, it gets easier but does it? Your life becomes BEFORE and AFTER and there is no turning back.When my father really died, a friend actually introduced me to “the club.” “A club, she said, for people who have lost a parent.” I didn’t want to be a member of that club, but it is true, no one else understands what it’s like until you experience it yourself. I cannot stop crying, I sob into the old, faded beige handkerchiefs my dad used to carry. I hold my body with my crossed arms and I rock back and forth, back and forth until the time I get so tired, I curl myself up into a little ball and, still crying, pray for sleep.
Dedicated to my dad : November 13, 1923 – December 31, 2002