March 15th through April 7th will forever be a time of darkness for me. Each and every year to follow, the events of these days in 2020 will continue to leave me in a state of uncertainty with many unanswerable questions. 3 weeks, over 24 days- living without: Information, Knowledge, Ability, Action, Plans, Visibility, and Extended Family.
What is that supposed to mean? Some background can be found here where I talk about losing my father.
I last saw and spoke to my father on March 14, 2020, as we all gathered to celebrate my parents’ 50th Wedding Anniversary on a picture perfect spring day. A slight chill in the air along with the embracing warmth of the sun as it began its journey down to set behind the ocean horizon. A small group of immediate family and a few friends, just as my parents would want. They were always the small and private type- ones who had no desire to ever celebrate on a large scale. It was a perfect celebration to have a small dinner and invite everyone back to their house for dessert and great conversation! For me- it is a memory to treasure forever- that look of pride and happiness on my father’s face all night! Unknowingly, but thankfully, the last memory I have of him. For the next 3 weeks, I would be unable to see or speak to my father as Covid-19 took hold of and eventually left a giant hole in my life as my father passed away on April 7th. It has been a year since his death, and yet my mind is still in a fog around the details of what happened, how he was feeling, or what he went through.
People have engaged with conversations about their situations with parents or relatives, however, their situations were significantly different. While I know they are trying to relate and empathize with their stories, I want people to know that, at times, these stories hurt more than they help. “I know how you feel, my mother was on a ventilator for two weeks, and it was tough to see her like that,” or “I will never forget holding his hand as he lay there, and I knew that he was leaving us….” These were actions that we were denied. This wasn’t a choice for me and my family. The covid environment took those options away and I am left with no other choice but to push my feelings of frustration and anger down internally- as if there is any more room for these emotions. I need people to understand this. Understand that those who lost someone to Covid were denied actions that we all take for granted- holding their hand, talking to them, just being in the hospital room- actions and abilities that allow us to process and grieve the the situation and the life we lost. I simply describe what I went through as darkness.
Being locked in a room in complete darkness with no ability to get out. You are randomly told over a loudspeaker that a loved one has just been admitted to the hospital in critical condition. Once a day, for the several weeks, you are told random bits of information updating you on their status. There you are- in your room of complete darkness- trying your best to put the puzzle pieces together. A puzzle with no picture, just black in color. One that is already missing pieces. No ability to see or hear anything, except the darkness and your thoughts. Darkness.
Here we are one full year later, nothing much has changed. I find myself in my room of darkness. Not all the time, but periodically. Even if people are around me, or I am out and about- I find myself in my room of darkness. I have been there while in the happiest of times: in the stands watching my son playing HS Football, or driving my youngest daughter to dance, or celebrating my oldest qualifying for Regionals as a gymnast. I have found myself there while watching TV, in the middle of a conversation with my wife, before I fall asleep, or simply eating dinner. It comes and goes like the tides of the ocean, gently and soothingly it creeps upon you until you are engulfed, only to recede before you even recognize it was there. The simple thought of “I wonder what he would say, or I wonder what he would do”, followed with the hope that somehow, someway he is watching everything.
There is so much we would talk about if he was here: The Presidential Election, the handling of the virus, the division of the country, the decision around education and schools, the idiocy of conspiracies and maskless people, his adventures driving the school bus, or what his next house project would be- But he is not here. So what would I discuss with him, if I could, about what happened in the year since his death? Like most- it would focus on family and the positive steps that everyone took in his absence. It would focus on his six grandkids and their accomplishments and would definitely transition to my mother, his wife, the love of his life. He would want to know that she is doing well. While he knows how strong of a woman she is deep down inside, he would want to hear that she is being taken care of. There was nothing more important to him than her happiness.
He wouldn’t voice the pride and joy or maybe he would, but either way, it would be obvious in his face and body language. Through his signature sarcasm and the dry humor, the conversation would be heartfelt and focused on what he wanted to know. It was an important lesson that took me too long to learn about my father. As a son who craved and desired the attention and affection of his father, it was important to focus on his mannerism to understand his feelings and I learned this as I matured. He was a man of few words to most, but to those who took the time, they found a man of deep, intellectual conversation, adventurous military undertakings, a unique sense of humor, and most importantly, a heart that family and friends could count on in their time of need.
Personally and selfishly, I want him to tell me all of the hidden stories of his mysterious life that he kept personal. I simply want to listen and learn about the man that I admired and loved beyond the life he allowed others to see. Stories like the one I only learned about after his death: My father, while stationed in Japan early in his Air Force days, had become friendly with a local Japanese man and learned he was building his own residence. My father took the time to help this man build his residence and, I am sure, bonded over this build as my father had his own dreams of building his future home in Maine. His act of kindness was recognized by the government of Japan after the local wrote to them expressing how honored he was to have this American had helped, even recruiting other soldiers to help in his time of need. The two had stayed friends over the years, communicating by mail, and included a visit to the US where my father reveled at being his tourist guide into NYC! Why did I only learn about this in his death? It took a great effort to pull together a letter to inform him of my father’s passing, but an effort reciprocated in the reading of letters my mother gave me, which played like an old family movie on a living room wall. I so want to learn more about my father, see the body language, and hear the sarcasm- he had so mastered it.
I would only want to listen and observe him once again. Listen to all of the stories he kept private. See him sitting in his chair with one leg crossing the other. Listen to any advice or encouragement he would have to offer. See his mouth smirk as he listened in on a conversation. Listen to what he wished he could do over. See his hand tap to the beat of the music playing in the background. Listen to what he loved. See his eyes give a look of pride. Listen to what he hated. See those same eyes with a look of happiness. Listen. See. Listen. See. Listen. And if he would ask me if I had anything to say to him, my reply would be the same act with 8 words he gave me in those special moments in life: Privately, as he hugged me so tightly I could feel his chest sobbing as he held back tears, he would whisper:
“I am Proud of you. I Love You.”