Since my dad died, I’ve been looking for him in everything. Early on, I sat on the porch with a drink, and I sort of talked to him and I tried to sort things out and in those evenings before the funeral I felt like I was doing pretty well for a guy whose dad just died.
I wasn’t really. Not at the beginning of writing this anyway. I was thrown into a little bit of a funk because the kids and I were having Dadurday and we were having a good time, and I was thinking of all the fun things we’re going to do and a lot of that is possible because we’re not going to my dad’s house anymore. Maybe I felt guilty, but I think I was just sad. It’s really over and he’s really gone and I was just raw.
Today, I guess grief is just erasing the day-to-day of the person you love until your life is manageable again. It’s not forgetting necessarily, it’s just not thinking things like, “I need to call Pop and remind him the Duke game is on.” Days later I’m a little angry, but I’m also optimistic. I contain multitudes, multitudes of emotions and thought. Tomorrow grief will be something else.
So many nights during the decline Sam came to me in bed and climbed on my tummy to sleep. He wouldn’t lie beside me, he wouldn’t go to bed. He insisted on being directly on top and since I wasn’t really sleeping anyway I welcomed him and I held that little boy as much and as long as he would allow.
I told myself that dad was with us in those moments. That’s probably horseshit, or it’s horseshit to say his spirit was, unless you mean spirit is the love he gave, the lessons he taught, or even the hurt he sometimes caused me. Those things are with me and will pass some of that on to my children. I’m still here, but he’s not. He died and sometimes I’m mad at him about that. It has nothing to do with souls or mumbo jumbo, but that we’re all tied together.
So on a recent Sunday morning, I was dumped out, had a real cry however short, and all I wanted to do was go to sleep, but I knew I was assling* about and over the last six weeks lots of things have needed attention in my yard that I just haven’t been able to give. I knew that taking care of some of it would make me feel better.
Sam was so excited to work with me he skipped lunch, and we bagged leaves from my neighbor’s yard with a push mower. We dumped the bags into the wheelbarrow, and from there we spread leaves all around our shrubs and plants. Everything he did had to be just like me. He had to wear sunglasses. He had to have a hat. He had to dump his little “weebeddow” of leaves on my pile of leaves. He did not want to go to his friend’s birthday party. He wanted to work in the yard with me. While I wanted him to go to the party, at times that day he was all there was between me and collapsing into a ball in the back yard.
My wife helps in this grieving process. My close friends are helpful as well. They all provide comfort, hope and a listening ear. Family bonds have been renewed because we’re all missing the same person.
But only my children provide me joy. Only they provide me with peace that somehow things will be OK even when I’m thinking that one day they will be sad because I’m dead, and I feel hopelessness about that sometimes. But mostly it reminds me of the job I have in raising them. It reminds me to teach them lessons through work, play and my example. Their laughter and love and fun make it worthwhile to get up in the morning. A month has passed and still Sam occasionally says, “I miss Papaw. Why he got dead?”
“I miss him too,” I say. “His body got old and worn out and couldn’t keep working.”
“Why he die?”
“I don’t know, son. I don’t know…”
And I don’t and I’m cool with that. I’m teaching my kids to be cool with “I don’t know.” I spent many years of my childhood praying, thinking that I knew things, but there was no truth in that, no sustenance or meaning, no action on my part or god’s. Just a poor kid begging every night to be forgiven for what people told me were my awful, awful sins. Shouldn’t that be the most holy thing of all, a child and his god? If I’m not careful I’m going to go off the rails here, but in trying to get what was holy out of the sky or in the afterlife I was missing the holy right in front of me. Holy was dad and I (sometimes alone or with siblings, nephews and nieces) riding together in the pick-up truck to the dump, dumping our stuff, then filling the truck with a bunch of shit we plundered. My first bike came from the dump. Holy was his slapping my knee and saying, you’re a good man, or you’re a good kid, but who likes Billy Goats? Holy was us singing “Dear Billy Goat” or hearing the joke about “The Fastest Animal in the World.”
Holy was the truckloads of wood, the brush piles, building barb wire fences, the summer afternoons lying on a footbridge catching minnows in a five gallon bucket. Holy is the continuation of those things along with new and all things involving love, togetherness thoughtfulness, kindness and goodness. Holy was riding in the back of a ‘69 Ford Ranger going to the spring for a cool drink of water. Holy is now a pack of kids hanging all over the back of my pick-up truck hauling furniture. Holy are my grandmother Birdie’s flower pots, my father’s tools. Holy is my boy pushing that red “weebeddow,” Holy is Sam, Holy is Ellie, Holy is life...Holy is death.
I’m connected to my dad. It’s eternal even if it doesn’t seem important. It’s just yard work. But there is no just yard work when there’s love. It can’t be defined, but it’s there. It doesn’t take faith because it just is.
Holy, Holy, Holy.
*assling about - a term used by my dad meaning "to drag one's ass and not get shit done as quickly as expected"