Every adult accepts there is a life cycle. But when a death occurs it will feel like an unnatural disaster nonetheless. All the estate planning, insurance policies, and rituals that were articulately expressed, to steel yourself for that terrible day, will not blunt what can be best described as a smack down.
Reminiscent of the opening scene of the film Gravity, you will find yourself untethered, adrift. There in the darkness, spinning, you will seek a silver lining to serve as a horizon line to center you. You lay in wait for the morning to come. Hoping the sunrise will erase yesterday. All the daylight brings is a clear view of the business card reminding you to call the crematory.
“Mind like water” is what I think to myself. Mind like water. It is my best strategy to avoid being swept away by dark thoughts and useless questions that usually begin with “what if?”
Because there will be no funeral, family and friends don’t have a clear outlet for closure. Thus the word of my father’s death has trickled out slowly. The calls, emails, texts and visits come at random. The grieving process seems to be open ended. The experience is such that if I were to wave my hand to hail a cab, I’m fairly certain someone would show up with a hearse.
People I thought were friends have disappeared. Who can blame them? We all know death is contagious.
Others whisper and tip toe around us as if we are no longer made of skin and bone but sculpted from ash. Perhaps it is thought that with one ill-chosen word we will blow away. So far I have witnessed no risk of that.
The most popular bereavement question remains “how are you doing?” The other members of the family seem to have no problem unburdening themselves. I, personally, don’t mind sharing what I am thinking but talking about feelings feels like applying salt to paper cuts.
If only Walmart sold a line of t-shirts that had different moods printed on them, I would buy them all. For example, last Thursday I would be wearing my “Uncomfortably numb” shirt. The day before would read “Really, bitch.”
Today’s shirt would read…
"My father is dead. Everything is upside-down. I crave structure, normalcy, as I am presently living in a lego house.
I spend my days assembling a plan, sorting out the details, picking up the pieces, and observing adults behaving badly. I hold my tongue, share 50% of what I think and am beginning to question my ability to dislodge the scream that lays stuck deep in my throat.”
I don’t think Walmart could print that all on a t-shirt. Maybe I should settle for a bumper sticker on my arse that reads “Ah Bartleby, ah humanity.”
Journal writing, which i have done for years, is my primary emotional outlet. I have enough volumes, I think, to give the Bible a run for its money. I want to note that my public thoughts are highly filtered and twice sifted before released. (I do remain lax on the proofreading and spellcheck though. Let’s call it artistic license rather than laziness.)
If there is a lesson I can pass on about bereavement, it would be to rule out the following phrases from your vocabulary.
A repurposed cliche doesn’t it make it more meaningful. Here’s the undiluted truth. Every day you will wake up with a hole in your heart. You will do your best to act normal. In time, you won’t feel like your acting. The loss may be easier to live with but it doesn’t get better. You go on because the alternative is unthinkable.
The most comforting messages I have received are ones that genuinely express “I’m thinking of you” or “Death sucks. I want you know that you are not alone. By the way, you look awesome in black.”
Do not fear humor! No one jokes with you when death come to visit. If your timing kind of sucks you may want to rethink humor but if you can work it, joke. It doesn’t make sense to lose your sense of humor when you need it most. It is small acts, not grandiose gestures, that tend to be the most healing.
The outpouring of love from family, friends and strangers alike I will never be able to express enough gratitude for. Moreover, it has helped my mother tremendously.
I must deeply apologize to my family of friends whose calls have remained unreturned. I have always believed if you don’t know what to say, say nothing. I suspect in six months time I may be more articulate but I won’t test your compassion. You will hear from me soon enough. I’ve always wanted to launch a crowdfunding campaign for a vacation.
My father didn’t get to see the end of winter. Spring snuck in almost unnoticed. It is a time of renewal. Please use the season generously and prosper. As I proclaimed in January, 2014 is a Year of Be. Be Fearless. Aspire to dream and pursue your own betterment. Time is a gift, use it wisely.
P.S. I took the photos this week while on a walk thru Blue Spring State Park. In seven years, this is the first time I visited it.
On March 18, 2014 at approximately 9:13am a great man who you may have never heard of died. That man was my father Raul Gonzalez.
It was a beautiful Florida morning when dad lost his long time battle against degenerative heart disease. He was 85 years old. I would love to say he died peacefully but life doesn’t always occur as cleanly as we would like it. At 4am, that morning his heart stopped for the first time. Emergency CPR was performed and he was brought back to life but severely weakened.
This generous act afforded my mom enough time to get to the hospital, and see him. It was then his primary care physician pulled her aside to tell her that it was time to alert the family.
After months of watching the only man she has ever loved suffer, she knew it was time to let go. She then informed the doctors that she did not wish him anymore suffering. If his heart were to fail him again, the hospital was not to perform any extreme measures to resuscitate him. She stepped out of the room. When she returned moments later, the machines that were keeping him alive were turned off. My father’s heart finally gave out.
So that is the story of how he died. This is how he lived.
My father immigrated to New York from Puerto Rico when a young teen. He came over with his aunt and immediately went to work. He did not graduate from high school. Nevertheless, my dad was not only bilingual but a voracious reader. He loved biography and would go to the library checking out up to four books at a time. He seldom talked much about himself but for a few things.
He was PROUD to be an American and served in the Korean War. This is one of the reasons why he was setoff when fellow Americans discriminated him against because of his Spanish accented English. How much more should a man give to his country before he is accepted as an equal?
The second thing my dad was proud of was his wife and children. He was a humble man yet a proud one. He was a postal worker by day and sometimes drove a cab by night. Despite money being tight, both of my parents insured we wanted for little and attended Catholic schools. In fact, to their credit, we never knew exactly how bad things were but trust me when you don’t have money to buy milk until Monday, you quickly figure it out.
The third thing my dad loved was the horses and playing the numbers. Sometimes I wondered how much money he would have saved if he placed every dollar he bet on a horse and stored it into a 401K. But he didn’t and I must concede that was his sport of choice. It brought him more joy than a 401K ever could. As some people are enthralled by the ocean, such was my dad’s affinity to the horse track.
His last love came later in life. At the ages of 78 and 68, my parents became first time homeowners. It was for them they’re crowning achievement. They had put their kids through school. They had seen their grandchildren thrive and now it was their turn. That plot of land that they bought in Florida in the early 1980’s was finally going to be put to use. Together they built their dream house. It was here he would stay, even as his health began to gradually decline.
Since my dad was a man who lived passionately it makes sense to me that the organ that he would exhaust would be his heart. He was both a lover and a fighter.
In the last thirty years, he survived prostate cancer, a quadruple heart bypass, and a heart stent. As his heart began to fail he met with each of my siblings, and myself, to insure there were no issues between us. It was no family secret my father and I spent most of our lives estranged. However, we loved each other unconditionally and ten years ago we made peace.
Last month dad turned 85. I can say definitively my father wasn’t ready to die.
In February, I visited Florida to spend time with my folks. Dad told me that he didn’t think he was going to make it to next year. He was tired. With each passing day he felt his vitality slipping away. He was incredulous that it seemed to happen so quickly. He could no longer walk unassisted. He lost his appetite. He was scared of dying. Why? He still had a hunger for life.
He wanted many more years to spend in his three bedroom Floridian castle. He wanted to see Puerto Rico one more time. He dreamed of going to the Kentucky Derby. He was patiently awaiting the day my siblings and I would tire of feuding with each other. Most importantly, he didn’t want to leave my mom alone. These are things he did not live to do, or see.
If just for today, here we are, together. Each one of us is processing this event differently. There are no rehearsals for this moment. My default is to remain quiet and keep busy. There is no shortage of time sensitive tasks and government agencies to call. Death seems to be about details.
To answer a commonly asked question, there will no memorial or funeral. My father hated funerals. He wished to be cremated and have his life celebrated with with music, food, drinks and laughs. No tears.
For anyone disappointed that there will be no services, if you care to memorialize our patriarch then do a shot in his name, do anything that brings you fulfillment. This is what he would like.
My dad always said that “he who doesn’t enjoy his life and live it to the fullest is fucked.”
I apologize if this has been a bit long but I never expected to write an obituary for my dad. As we, the family, embrace the future with the memory of Raul Gonzalez know that he is not only in our DNA but he lives where ever there is joy being had.
Cheers and thank you for your kind thoughts!