The Empty Chair
I have commented on the passing of my father on September 14, 2017 in previous writings. I apologize for using this forum as a therapeutic outlet, but since I do not knit, writing this helps though at the end of my work I don’t create a beautiful sweater. Man I should really learn to knit. My five siblings and I ( I am the one without the sweater) have done a remarkable job in managing all those tedious tasks one must perform post funeral. The administration of so many documents, that so many of you have sadly become experts with, are all shiny and new things for us.
This weekend all six children will be at my father’s condominium in Oakville, for the third time cleaning up all the acquired crap my parents accumulated during their time here. The stuff they saved spans from opening day Blue Jay tickets to a hair salon phone number in Florida, that mom must have used, to ensure she displayed the proper style during their winters in Destin Florida.
We will do our best to avoid the emotional conversations that every picture we take down will deserve, as each of us have created our own pace of grieving. Their condo is like a museum, but only a museum that my family would pay to enter. Every knick knack, piece of furniture, CD, VHS tape, fine china, photo album, and worn out receipts, tell a story of a life well lived.
It is curious that our memories of our parents are so personal. We tend to struggle with the separation of our logic to this clean up task and our feelings each filled box of memories could evoke. I have a new respect for Mr. Spock from the old Star Trek series, as his Vulcan culture mastered the art of keeping it all logical.
Less than a week from now, on November 9th it would have been my dad’s 88th birthday. He did not make the “piano keys” milestone, and that simple fact, would sadden every piano he ever leaned on, as he belted out a Sinatra tune. There will be an empty chair at the family table this year.
We have all been exposed to the steps of grieving that have spawned a bloody industry, as grief counselors are now mandatory offerings for all who are faced with a loss. Denial, anger, bargaining and acceptance were the original stages, though many have been added, to help others with their process of letting go. There is a famous Simpson’s episode where Homer effectively goes through these phases in less than twenty seconds. I wish I had that kind of focus.
So where am I with this process? It is not Denial, as I am pretty sure he will not be around for his birthday. It is not Anger, as clearly I am happy about the money I am saving for his birthday present this year. It can’t be Bargaining, as I am painfully aware I paid too much for my new computer printer, so bargaining is not my strength. It might be acceptance, but am I just saying this to prove it is over? I barely accept a compliment on those rare occasions when I get my hair to look just right. Since those compliments are only coming from me, as I stare in the mirror at the perfect curl dangling over my forehead, I accept that accepting self-congratulations may not capture the spirit of this game. Perhaps it is the job of others to assess your status on the ladder of grief.
My current state of mind is a fast moving roller coaster that would clearly mess up that curl in my hair. I am trying to use a clever metaphor here, even though I don’t like roller coasters, According to my research on literary terms, the use of metaphors have very little effect on your current hair style.
My lingering thoughts are not helping me with the assessment of my step status. I think about him when I am raking the leaves. I think about him when I am watching a Leaf game. I think about him when I am stuck in traffic. I think about him when I am not stuck in traffic. I think about him when I am at the drive through at Tim Hortons. I think about him when I fall asleep and when I wake up. Damn you dad, you now even haunt my dreams. I think about him when the phone rings. I think about him when lint clings to my newly laundered pants. As I remove that lint it occurs to me that what is missing, is perhaps the grief counselling industry might have missed a vital step in their theory of steps.
I am not a step care psychologist. Hey I even get a little dizzy when I get to the top of my step stool in the kitchen trying to reach the slow cooker buried on the top shelf over the stove. Steps are not my friend as I have fallen on a few steps, leaving parties when my wife was driving. My lack of expertise with this step thing will not stop me from offering one more step to this process.
Clinging seems to be the one step missing for me as I am clearly stuck, or more accurately I am clinging to this clinging stage. I cling to the memories of every moment we spent together. I cling to the idea of him. I cling to the joy I will know longer feel, but his absence does not seem to dissipate that feeling of joy. I am clinging to the past. I am clinging to hope, even though I have no idea what I am hoping for. Like that damn lint that clings to my newly dried pair of pants ( though a female voice from upstairs echoes through the house reminding me to add a strip of Bounce in the dryer). Lint clinging can present a surprising sticky situation. In a moment of desperation I tried eating a sheet of Bounce, but it did not remove that clinging feeling.
Each day I eat a little Bounce but I don’t bounce back from this ever present feeling of clinginess. The upside to this new daily ritual, is that with a constant dry mouth I am sure drinking a lot more water these days, and I hear that is a very healthy habit for people my age.
Happy 88th birthday dad, I only wish that empty chair and this clinging heart looked and felt a little less empty.
Cue the Blong: Where Did I Go? is written from the perspective of the elderly. If this song encourages you to just say hello to a senior citizen next time your are out and about, my work here is done.
Very poignant Dennis. Your dad’s death is a very great loss and it is good that you are able to acknowledge and honour it. For surely his passing was honourable – and maybe that is the sixth step of the grieving process.
Sometimes people think that if the person who has died is “old” (however you define old) that the pain of loss is somehow less. The reality is that the longer the loved one has been with us, the more memories there are to remind us of the loss.
You have been blessed. Here’s an electronic man-hug Dennis.
Tom thanks so much for the man-hug. Your comment about length of time and the volume of memories rings true. I appreciate your very kind words and wise insight.