The Long Shadow

“Sixty 25th of Decembers
Fifty-nine 4th of Julys” The Beautiful South

So this is the 25th second of June that I’ve looked back on the day my Dad died.

A quarter century. The silver anniverary  of not having him.

The first year anniversary was maybe the toughest. The dread I felt leading up to it, knowing that I’d have to relive all the memories of that day’s events again was debilitating. And yet I was still numb with shock, if it’s possible to remain in shock for an entire year. The following year was easier, maybe. I had been through it all once before (the year before), and it was becoming a regular part of the yearly cycle, like Christmas and dentist visits (I guess it was more like dentist visits than Christmases, if I had to compare it to one or the other). I would usually set aside that day and make sure I hung out with my Mom and brother, not really doing any particular “remembering Dad” business, but knowing that the other two had it on their minds so we were there for each other. The year after that, I guess that would be ’94, was different. I myself had spent the previous winter in a psych ward getting treated for Depression, and on that June 2nd I had a new appreciation of the thing my Dad faced, suffered and to which he ultimately lost. It was also maybe the first year I felt my brother pull away from me on the anniversary, as I fear he no longer saw me as a reliable source of strength and dependability, based on what I put him (and my Mom, and everyone I loved and cared about) through the previous winter. We’ve kept a respectful distance since then, and maybe it’s for the best. I’ve never been comfortable on a pedestal.

And after that?

Routine, I guess.

I DO remember remarking in ’96 as I was out for a drink with my friend Ed that “how could it be five years already?”

I guess that was 20 years ago.

Anyway, most years I quietly mark the day and think about my Dad in my own way. I’m not a big “let’s visit the cemetary” kind of guy, but that doesn’t mean I’m not remembering. I think about all those years I wish I had him still with me and even though my life is currently pretty great, I would risk trading it all in a second if it meant I could have kept him with us for a bit longer. It’s a dangerous mental exercise to engage in, the whole “Sliding Doors” scenario where you imagine a parallel life where one event happens (or doesn’t happen) and how those two lives diverge from that moment. It’s ultimately a waste of time, because as the Tragically Hip remind us, “No dress rehearsals, this is our life”, and we have to just push ahead and try to make sense of this scary, messed up world and love who we can love and laugh when we can laugh and try to enjoy each moment. That’s the plan, and the goal, and the hope.

But at 25 years, I thought I should maybe say something. I don’t know. Shortly after my Dad died, I wrote down everything little thing I could think about him. His funny weird sayings, the peculiar way he would hug people, nicknames we’d have for him. His favourite foods, movies, songs. I wanted to capture as much of his essence as I could, because it was all I had left, and I didn’t trust my memory. It’s all in a book somewhere. Most likely in that mythological place: my Mom’s basement. I’ll probably find it one day, and like a time capsule, I’ll reread it and I’ll unleash these dormant memories from a time that predates the internet.

Actually, if I was more on the ball, I would have looked for that book this past weekend, and shared some of its little moments on this day, the 25th anniversary of his death as a kind of a weird, but loving tribute.

But I’m just not that clever, or organized. So instead, let me share the memory I have of my last real conversation with him.

It was about a week or so before he died, and he was home on a day pass from the hospital and I remember him standing in our front hallway. I asked him if I could borrow the car to go out. I still asked him this, even though I knew I probably should be asking my Mom, but I still wanted him to know that he was my Dad and still just as “in charge” of me as my Mom was, despite being in the hospital for a couple of months at this point. He asked where I was going, and I told him. I don’t remember now: a movie, or a comic book store, or something. And he stopped me, and told me how sorry he was about not being a good father to me and my brother and how he wished things were different. This totally broadsided me, and I never once, not even ONCE thought he was ANYTHING but the best Dad. Certainly the best Dad of all my friends, for sure, hands down. I always thought of this illness as a shitty inconvenience, but one that would be cured and life would return to normal eventually. My Dad suffered a major bout of Depression 5 years earlier, had also been hospitalized then, and made a full recovery, so I had no reason to think that this time would be any different. It would just take time. We’d just have to wait it out. It wasn’t until a week or so later that it finally dawned on me that Depression could actually kill. That it was a deadly, fucking serious disease that actually killed good people, like cancer. I didn’t know that then, or really even consider it as a possibility. I do remember hugging my Dad (and getting one of his patented funny weird “half hugs” back. The last one, actually. Although I didn’t know that then either), and telling him how he was crazy (bad choice of words, I see that now, 25 years later), and how I thought he was the BEST Dad of all the Dads I knew and I told him this and we started to both cry as we held each other in the front hallway and I don’t know if I am making this part up, or whether this was real but I remember DISTINCTLY he was wearing all white that day (like an angel) and there was almost a glow about him but how could that be? We continued to just sort of awkwardly hug each other for a little while longer in our front hallway, and I wish I could tell you that conversation changed things, and he began to show signs of improvements, and we celebrated his 75th birthday last year, but I can’t. I can’t. I can tell you that I left and went out to that comic store, or that movie, or wherever I was going, and a week later my Dad was dead, and my life as I knew it was over, and I have, more or less, been living in its long shadow ever since. Love may be everything, but sometimes love isn’t enough.

Sometimes I worry I am too much like him, and that the disease that took him will some day come back for me. I’ve already suffered through a run-in with it once that nearly took my life, and I still struggle from time to time, despite having it well managed. I guess none of us really know what the future holds.

I’m getting together with my Mom tonight, as I usually do, off and on over the years, on this day. We’ll watch my daughter play soccer and then maybe, if the grass is dry enough, I’ll cut the lawn as my Mom puts my daughter to bed. Then, we’ll probably hang out, talk about baseball, talk about work, talk about books we are reading, and then at the end of the night, after she’s gone home. I might sigh a deep sigh, and feel a weird sense of relief, knowing that tomorrow is not June 2.

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1 Comment

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One response to “The Long Shadow

  1. Thinking of you and your mom today. Wish I could have met your Dad. Now I want one of those weird hugs!

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