Like a lot of my family, I have spent the last few days dreading April 20th. Wondering how am I going to get through, what am I going to do, how am I going to cope.
It’s funny how we are conditioned to remember things. I will probably always remember this day as the day my dad died – but despite all my expectations, I have not yet felt any pain on this day. Even the first time three years ago there was no pain – just numbness (and alarm, as my mother’s black eye proved – sorry, mum). Last year I was lucky enough to be with someone who spent the entire day having fun with me. But this year, I was faced with spending the whole day at a yoga studio (meditative by nature) and then the evening in the empty house as my mum and my brother are at Penn State. I was expecting to wake up in a terrible mood, fumble through my teaching, come home, and binge on Indian food while watching Monty Python and old home videos.
Over the last few weeks, I have felt an oppressive, toxic atmosphere in the world (and looking at the news, it’s not just in my head). But last night I sat in my car chatting with one of my oldest friends, and I felt oddly peaceful. Later in the evening there was a massive thunderstorm with extremely heavy rainfall. It reminded me of something my dad and I always used to do: whenever we were home and it rained really hard, we sat under umbrellas on the deck until we got wet and cold and couldn’t bear it anymore. I would pull my knees into my chest and stay nearly completely dry – but he was too big, so he always got soaked – he would laugh and go inside long before I did, calling me a looney.
This morning, the sun woke me up before my alarm went off (this is an impressive feat for someone who considers 6:30 sleeping in). I felt more well-rested than I have in weeks. I checked my email and saw that I was admitted to Mensa. I went to the yoga studio, and despite being characteristically ambitious I didn’t break anyone while I taught my sequence. I made it through the whole day without anything catastrophic occurring.
At first I felt guilty for being so content. I actually spent a good portion of my morning trying to be somber and melancholy before realising just how ridiculous an idea that is – especially since my dad was the one who would always say “life is too short to be unhappy.” Then I had the simplest realization: The pain of death is not in death itself, but in the absence. Nothing inside me said “Oh, three years, time to be miserable.” Even after he initially left, the first time I was overwhelmingly upset came when I was trying to fix something and he wasn’t there to tell me how.
However, I was sad when my dad wasn’t at my university graduation. I was upset when he didn’t see me finish my first half marathon (in two hours!). I was ticked off when I had to take my car to a mechanic (although I am glad I am able to fix some things with my brother)! I will probably be upset when he can’t come to my wedding (although let’s be honest, I probably won’t be there either) and I will most likely be sad when his grandkids can’t meet him. The pain of death isn’t in dying, but in the cavities left in other people’s lives. I’m sure if my dad saw the emptiness he left in the many friends he left behind, he would be suffering even more than we are. I hope that if he ever helped you fix your car or fed you some of his homemade bread, you remember him when you turn the key or pass by a bakery.
Not a day goes by when I don’t think about my dad, whether it’s because I’m angry at the circumstances or because I was reminded of a fond moment. And there was a certain poetry to the thunderstorm that lulled me to sleep last night, to being woken up by the sun fully rested, to have accomplished something nerdy, to have heard some of his favorite songs in my car as I was speeding home towards the sunset. And I’m still going to gorge on Indian food and watch Monty Python until my eyeballs fall out of my head – but I am grateful because today is a day that made me feel pretty damn glad to be alive.