Note: Last night, I found myself watching "Up" on DVD and it reminded me of this essay I wrote on the second anniversary of my dad's death. I posted it to Facebook but not to the blog, and wanted to put it up here.
Two years ago, my father died. Six weeks after, on Sept. 11, the woman I referred to as my second mom passed away as well.
It felt like the Twin Towers of my childhood were coming down around me. Fortunately, the foundation of much of that childhood — my mom — is still standing.
My entry into this not-so-exclusive club — adult children who lose their parents — was not dissimilar to many who are my age. Nor, as I continue to learn, are the emotions that to this day catch me off guard.
For example, I took my kids to see "Up," the new Disney movie, this past weekend. In what is a bravura sequence of filmmaking (animated, CGI, or not), the audience watches an almost 10 minute sequence that represents the arc of a lifetime for Carl and Ellie. As you watch the adventure they go through, that of the mundane day-to-day tasks and miscellaneous hardships and barriers that prevent them from going to the land unknown, I dare anyone not to tear up.
Or, as in my case (and to the horror of my suddenly self-conscious children), you might start blubbering like a baby.
The reason for this, I later figured out, was because the relationship represented everything I saw in my parents. Life's barriers, big and small, kept blocking their path, but they never stopped living their adventure. Not until after the very end. Two years and two days ago, my father waved goodbye to me and to my sister before slipping into a final, fitful coma. His death, or some form of life without him, was something I had prepared myself for almost daily since childhood.
Truism #1: No matter how prepared you may be, you are never prepared for life after the end.
The death of my second mom was not as much of a shock, even though Fran's dramatic decline in such a short period was traumatic in its own way.
The numbness of these two events started wearing off after about 4 months. The holidays brought a flood of memories and feelings I had anticipated, but was not able to deal with at the time. No matter how “prepared” I thought I was, I wasn’t ready to see a movie I knew my father would like and not be able to call him, or to find a book or CD that he would enjoy and realize I couldn’t buy it and put it away for Chrismas or his birthday.
Truism #2: Memories live as long as you breathe life into them.
Over time, I found myself welcoming other friends into my not-so-exclusive club. We now exchange knowing nods, e-mails, and phone calls as critical days and anniversaries pass, times in which we are transported back to childhood and reminded of the things (big and small) that we encountered with our parents on life's great adventure.
Two years after his death, I remember my father’s life, and all that it represented. On days like today, days in which my mom and I share conversations about mundane things and find ourselves beset by awkward long distance pauses, I can’t help but think about the end.
On days like today, I wonder why I forget the simplest things, like remembering to put on my watch, or carrying my phone with me to a lunch meeting that runs late. I wonder why my mom’s phone call about finding some of my father’s sketches makes me feel like I’m 8 years old all over again, or why I feel compelled to write this now to share with the world.
I wonder why, on a day in which I received a promotion that would make my father beam with pride, I feel so ambivalent. And then I realize it’s because of what’s been lost, that nothing can replace the presence of a parent in your life.
And then I look at my own kids, those who exasperate and upset me so while bringing such joy to my life, and I know. I just know.
RIP: John Glenn Cook Jr., 1940-2007.