The Mourning Son

This is my first Father's Day without my father and my feelings are much like a scrambled egg. My father has been gone about seven months now and I miss him every day. I try not to make my father's death about me but ultimately it is. In my father I have had a way to trace and track my very being. In him I could find my origin and shadows of past and future self. He was a picture I had spent a lot of time gazing at, finding different hues and textures and things that spoke to me and sometimes for me. I am that I am because he was who he was, without equivocation I am my father's son, still... Him being gone in body from me, has been revelatory, disorienting and frightening at different times and all at the same time. His death left me feeling more adult than I anticipated. Part of our fully coming into adulthood cannot be actualized until our mother and father pass away, which is one reason why we resist the death of our parents so much.

A year to the date of his mother passing, we took him to the hospital. It was on a Friday night, he would never come back home. Taking him to the hospital was my family's normal. All my adult life he has been ailing from this or that. He never told us how bad he was feeling until we were in the Emergency Room and I'd ask him how long he wasn't feeling well and he'd say "for about a week or so..." Nothing in his responses made sense but I began to understand over the course of time that his way of fighting against his own rebelling body was to ignore it till he couldn't, which made every hospital visit a crisis. My brothers and I lived with one crisis or another for a very long time and then all of a sudden, it was over. Just like that, in a moment it was over. "What the hell do I do now?" I thought to myself.

My brothers along with my mother went to the family viewing at the funeral home the day before his services. It is normal for family's to inspect their loved one's remains and make any last changes they deem important. My brothers left the room to take care of some business; my mother and I were left alone with my father's remains. There was a couch off to the side, I sat on it and watched as my mother stared into the casket, wiping away tears and shaking her head. My parents had by the time of his passing been divorced for 20 years or so but I watched her as she grieved him and I began to understand that she was the first to lose him so long ago. For better or for worst for most of her life, she has been in a relationship with a man whose presence and attention to her was fleeting at best. While losing him was new to me and my brothers, as she looked at him and gathered the strength within herself to stand by the husband of her youth even in death, I saw that beyond death there is a binding love, the only enduring agency in this whole enterprise of life we share.

I don't think you come into full son-ship till you bury your father. As long as he is alive, there are parts of you that can't and won't be actualized because you are conscious of his being in the world and his presence can be subconsciously stifling and comforting even if the relationship is strained. Standing over a grave, after overseeing the remains of your Father, brought me into a realm of adulthood that I have never known; at his grave is where I felt validated and fully his son.

Over the past months since he has been gone, I realize in some ways he is very much still here with my brothers and I. We are still tending to his business, trying to tie up loose ends, trying to make sense of what he left behind and deciphering what of his things have value and what we can part with. He is as complicated in death as he was in life. In my frustration and even anger over these few months, I have resisted the unction to buy a shovel, dig him up just so I can yell at him. Part of my anger is that ultimately I feel he didn't choose me. I am angry because as I studied his death certificate, I see that what ultimately killed him were things that shouldn't have and if only he would have taken better care of himself. If only he loved me enough to take care of himself because I needed him and I wasn't ready to be without him, he didn't choose me and I'm still angry about that.

I know it's natural for me to bury my father, it is the uninterrupted cycle of life that children bury their parents but I wasn't ready because there is a part of me that didn't want to fully come into adulthood. The child in me still needed the comfort of my father's presence but it was not meant to be. I was reading a book on grief; the author was talking about the loss of her mother and she said, "My mother taught me everything, except how to live without her." I agreed with her because honestly, I am winging it every single day. I am trying to find a way to live with what I can never have again, the presence of my dear father.

Ultimately I do not mourn his death as much as I mourn his life. My father was never a "happy" person; joy was fleeting and never constant for him. He was a depressive, who emotionally ate then ignored what happens when you live life with your foot on the "proverbial" gas pedal. I wish I could have seen him smile more; laugh more, vacation more... In death was the only way his wretched soul could rest and that is in a way a relief, death can be loving, merciful in some ways. There is grace in dying and there is even grace for the dead. There is no rest here on earth; the grave makes us lie down when the wear and tear of the soul makes the body surrender. I am left to remember mostly a man who couldn't find peace in a life that seemingly to me was way too short.

Grief is the tax of love. Most often what we love we don't get to keep forever. What helped me and still helps me is that between my father and I there was no words left unsaid, no love that was not given. He knew how much I loved him because I told him. He died a few months before my fortieth birthday and in my reflection and the embracing of my own mortality, I have realized that I have lived most of my days or I am right in the middle of my life. But what he has made me in his dying is a Mourning Son and oddly enough, every day I am becoming more and more comfortable with that precious gift of grace...

From the forthcoming book, TOUCHING GRACE by Patrick D. Shaffer