at a castle in Hungary with my sister, Anastasia, and our dad, 2007
I was filling out a medical form today, doing the family history section, and for the first time since his death almost four months ago, I had to fill in the “age-of-death” box for my father. Sixty-seven. I know there are people, children, unfortunately, whose parents die at considerably younger ages than that, but the very sad fact is that I’d hoped – expected – to have about twenty-five more years with him.
I tell myself how grateful I should be that I had the time with him that I did, that, in my adulthood, we developed a very positive relationship. And I am grateful. Because some people don’t even have that. I appreciate every moment I had with him, every memory that I hope will linger the rest of my life.
But that doesn’t make me miss him any less. That doesn’t make the grief go away, the wishing he was still here. Wishing he could read the new book I’m writing. Wishing I could pick up the phone and talk to him, hear about his most recent international trip, tell him I love him.
I take a break, go make and eat my dinner. I’m by myself while my boys are visiting their dad, so I read this month’s National Geographic while I eat. There’s an article on Myanmar, a country Dad loved. He’d been there twice I think, perhaps more. I look around my home and see so many lovely international souvenirs that I inherited from him – the silk rugs from China (where I watched him diplomatically haggle), beaded tapestries from India and Thailand, an embroidered pillow from Greece, an alpaca chullo hat from Peru. I remember climbing the Eiffel Tower with him on one trip and, on a later trip, watching him try not to cry as he embraced relatives in Slovakia whom he hadn’t seen for forty years.
I remember Dad taking my brother and me to Dodger games, how he held me up over the waves at Laguna Beach, how he sang so beautifully at church every Sunday, how he read bedtime stories to us. I remember the day that he taught me to ride a bike, jogging along beside me, letting go when he knew I was ready. And then there was the year and a half that he babysat his grandsons for two afternoons every week, because Nigel had been rejected by various daycares due to his autism. There are all the trips, all the phone calls, the plays Dad and I saw together. All those memories add up to so much more than a number on a form.
I think about how much that little box on the medical form really holds. Not just the things he’d done with his life and the places he’d been, but the love. So much love. “67” in a box that says “age of death” above it only says that he didn’t live a very long life. It doesn’t say how much life was in those 67 years. And if the box took up the whole page it still wouldn’t be big enough.
Grief, I’ve come to learn, cannot be confined to a time period or a schedule. It’s a lot like love in that way, which continues on long after death. And, like life, it won’t fit into a little box with a number scrawled inside it. It’s big and it’s full, consuming and unapologetic. I’m making my way through it, holding onto the memories, feeling the love.