It has been fourteen months since my father passed away. I no longer cry uncontrollably like I did for the first 9 months, when a song, a picture, a memory would trigger an outpouring of profound grief. But he still appears occasionally in my dreams, and when he does I do everything in my power to keep the dream going. Of course, these are all expressions of loss, evidence of my mind trying to cope with my dad’s permanent absence.
In some strange way, I take comfort that my dad, in his last months, at the age of 87, still missed his mom and dad who had passed more than forty years prior. It’s a testament to the irrevocable bond many of us have with our parents.
When I was still trying to come to terms with that fact that he was dying, his condition swinging wildly between improvement and decline, my cousin Kim said it nicely: “Dying is like a birth – but in reverse.” She explained that birthing comes in waves. The head begins to crown and goes back in and then begins to emerge again. In the same way, dying isn’t always this linear thing.
During his last weeks, I took every opportunity to express my gratitude to him, recounting my fondest memories of him and what he taught me. We had travelled together to Peru, Kenya, and Israel, among other places. I saw the boldness with which he acted, when a fight broke out between an Israeli soldier and a Palestinian in the Old City. I also saw his anxieties occasionally emerge when he was outside his comfort zone. I think talking through it all helped us both take stock of the life he had lived — and the great life we lived as a family. One thing is very clear to me: my dad had the highest standard when it came to defining quality of life. That’s helped me clarify my own ideas around quality of life and the importance of doing things while I physically can (I’ve already booked my next trip to run in the Italian Dolomites).
Raising a child while grieving was a big challenge. Regardless of what I was feeling, my son required my near constant attention, which made it super hard to mourn — even as his presence reminded me life necessarily continues on after a death in the family. It’s not that I suppressed my grief, but I was just too busy to sit and reflect for long periods of time. Hence, the grief tended to emerge at night, in the darkness, when I was nodding off to sleep and my defences were down.
After my dad passed, I needed to grieve in my own way. I was happy people emailed and called, but I often didn’t pick up the phone. I needed space, but I still felt respected and loved. Which comes to my next point: Even if you don’t know what to say to a grieving person, don’t avoid them. An awkward message of condolences will be received better than none at all.
My dad was a force of nature. There is wind, fire, and rain. There was also Papa Brodey. He was sometimes the bull in the china shop, but he was also deeply expressive. From him, I learned that you could be a man and still cry loudly – whether at the movies or when something moved you profoundly.
Even now, I still sometimes feel disoriented by the loss, but I recognize that there is continuity with the love and time spent with my mom and sisters, wife and son. Not all was lost when my dad died, but I know I will never stop missing him.