The hard part

When all the food is eaten and the cards are opened and the obituary is published and the belongings are divided and the shock has worn off and the visitors have come and gone, you’re left with the same problem that all of these distractions can’t touch: The person you loved is gone. Maybe not in spirit, but in body, and you miss them harder without the noise and bustle of everyone else’s grief around you.

I keep thinking I see him out of the corner of my eye. I hear his laugh in someone else’s voice. I have the fleeting thought, “Dad would love this, I should tell him…” before I remember I can’t share it with him.

I’m all too familiar with depression, but this time the source isn’t a chemical ghost haunting my brain. I can’t go to bed with the knowledge that tomorrow will be better, that the glitch in my system will reverse itself with rest.

Instead, I hope for a good day rather than a bad one. I remind myself that it will take time — it’s only been two weeks, after all.

I shower and dress, brush my teeth, and make coffee. I watch comedies and try not to think about how much he’d laugh at them. I browse Facebook and startle when I see his photo pop up in my notifications. I plan an upcoming work trip and tend to sick kids and make shopping lists.

Getting through a loved one’s death is hard, for sure, but living after death is harder. Taking what I’ve learned and using it, rather than wallowing. Trying to move forward, even though I’m not quite ready to stop looking back.

Now comes the hard part.

Gallery

Fifteen

I was going through old photographs after Dad passed with the intention of putting together a photo book, and came across some of my really old stuff.

It reminded me that Tim and I started dating 15 years ago. He was obviously my favorite subject, with a few dramatic selfies (which were not called selfies back then) thrown in for good measure. Man, we were young.

Happy 15 years, love. Let’s make the most of all the years yet to come.

Gallery

Then and now

Shortly after we moved here, my parents bought the property next to ours and gave it to my brother, so today we decided to take a look around. At the back of the property are three junked cars that have been there for decades – an Oldsmobile, a Buick, and a Hudson. All of them have been stripped for parts, had their windshields shattered, are overgrown with trees and weeds, and are full of bullet holes from bored and/or disappointed hunters.

The last time I explored the land, I was a senior in college. I made these cars the subject of a photojournalism assignment. I think I got an A for conveying a sense of emotion and humanity without directly photographing a person.

I visited on three separate occasions in 2003 and 2004 as well. The cars lend themselves to high-contrast, black-and-white photos. Each time I go, I see some new detail I’d overlooked before.

This afternoon, I went back with my iPhone. The cars themselves haven’t changed much, but the photographs have. My eye probably has, too, thanks to the rebirth of square photography. Welcome to the age of Instagram.

I wonder what these cars will look like ten years from now. I wonder if I’ll still be drawn to them, and if so, I wonder what those photos will look like.

Rest in peace, Dad

Dad and me

My father passed away on Monday morning. Mom and I were with him when he took his last breath. We sang Three Little Birds, a song he taught me, the only song that came to mind out of a hundred possible songs. It was so appropriate, though, that I can’t help but think his spirit was guiding us, even at the moment of his death.

Rise up this morning
Smile with the rising sun
Three little birds
Sitting by my doorstep
Singing a sweet song, a melody pure and true
Singing: “This is my message to you.”
“Don’t worry ’bout a thing,
’cause every little thing
gonna be all right.”

I’d never witnessed a death until yesterday. It reminded me of birth; you offer what support you can, but ultimately the struggle falls on the shoulders of the person going through it. I’m grateful he didn’t struggle for long, and that he knew he was loved until the end.

Dad's tea, 2003

It’s not his death that’s left an impression, but his dying. Death is a moment; dying is a process. Each day, we’re one moment closer to that last breath. The last six weeks have been incredibly difficult, but also transformative. They’ve forced me to look at my life and reevaluate and reinforce my priorities from the perspective of someone who has only a few days, a few weeks, a few years.

If you knew just how precious your time was, would you spend it differently?

I don’t think I could truly appreciate that question until I was faced with losing someone.

A meeting with the mouse

For the first time, I understand clearly what I believe, something I’d been unable to articulate until now. I hesitate to call it faith; I’m more comfortable with spirituality. Whatever you call it, Dad’s dying gave me a better sense of myself and my beliefs, and that’s a gift.

Popsicle time

I look for these silver linings because he wouldn’t want us to mope, but the simple fact is, I miss him. I know I’m not the only one, given the number of visitors, calls, and messages left for us over the last day.

It only reinforces my belief that the spirit lives on long after the body is gone, in the memories of the ones who loved us, and in the number of lives we touch during our time here.

Photo by Robin MacNeil

Photo by Robin MacNeil

And when I’m in doubt, I’ll always have those three little birds to remind me.

Don’t worry ’bout a thing, ’cause every little thing gonna be all right.