My dad died in November. It happened to be on my kid’s birthday. It happened to be a few days before Thanksgiving. It happened to be at the start of the month or so of chaos that is the holiday season – the season filled with shopping and class parties and band concerts and end of the year reports and then New Years and then omigod it’s January. Then, it happened to be January, and now it happens now to be just a few days before his funeral.
Make no mistake, I am very aware of the fact that my father is gone. But my energy associated with this event so far has been practical by necessity, rather than strictly emotional. You in the unlucky club of having to handle the business end of losing someone will recognize this space. It’s the bubble. Compartmentalizing for the sake of functionality. Moving forward not so much to avoid the grief, but because the grief must coexist with more mundane things like deciding who will get who from the airport and if there will be enough scrambled eggs at the funeral breakfast and if the dogs got fed. Sure, you can and will break down in tears, but you’ll still need to write the obituary, so cry … but cry and type, sister. Cry and call the cemetery. Cry and call the probate court. Cry and fax the death certificate.
Lots of people have discussed the simultaneous doing and feeling that comes after a death, especially on the internet. There’s a lovely article by John Pavlovitz that gets shared a lot about this strange bubble, the space where you’re in grief but also at the grocery store. A woman on Twitter explained my favorite analogy about grief, the “ball in the box,” that shows how your grief button gets hit unexpectedly and potently. I also like this widely-shared Reddit wisdom about grief in relation to 100 foot waves. These are all great reads and filled with the deep experience of humans who have been there. But I think my favorite words come from one of my neighbors. She was getting her eyebrows waxed before her dad’s funeral in a moment of self care, and she heard a song on the radio that brought her to tears. The lady waxing her eyebrows unknowingly apologized. “You’re not usually this sensitive,” she said. Yeah … “not usually this sensitive.” That just about sums it up.
So far this week, I have not cried at delivering my dad’s ashes to the cemetery office, but I cried at picking the right black top to wear. I have not cried at talking to the officiant for the service, but I’ve cried as I folded 200 programs, reminded again and again that this little piece of paper sums up my dad's whole life. I have not cried at the fact that our family and friends are coming from all over because the funeral is this weekend, but I cried at the sight of a cough drop on the floor of my dad's car – a small, tangible artifact that he was here and now he’s not. There will be a million of these, a million little songs on the radio that hurt more than me getting my eyebrows waxed. But check out how neatly those programs are folded. Look at that lovely guest book I picked. Enjoy the scrambled eggs at the funeral breakfast … we’ll order more if you need them. Those are my little offerings of love right now. And of grief.
I woke up to a flooded basement. The toilet ran and dripped down the walls and made a non-ignorable puddle in the basement. We had only gone up to the lakehouse for one night because being at the lakehouse on New Years Eve is a lucky tradition for me. Years when I don’t do it have felt perilously off from the start. One included a broken heater. One resulted in my kid getting accidentally locked outside when a dog chased her. One featured a very reasonable choice to forgo what turned out to be an unforgettable family experience that I will always have missed out on – a true FOMO come true. Come to think of it, all three of those were the same year. So, we went up to the lakehouse for luck this year, and woke up to broken toilet. But I did my good luck duty, so it could have been worse, right? I called my uncle, the plumber, who offered his help. I guess that was, and is, good luck.
We always eat 12 grapes at the stroke of midnight on New Years. We do that because I read it’s good luck in Spain, so I shove them in two at a time and chew sloppily while Ryan Seacrest chatters. I make my husband and kiddos do it, too. Every year, my husband complains how much he hates it, and the children nearly choke. I start off the new year with a mad husband and choking children, but if I don’t do it, things’ll be worse, right? Right. Gotta eat the grapes to avert bigger disasters.
I have a rotten head cold. I want to snuggle on the couch and stare into space and not think about the broken toilet. But I am baking cornbread and making the only edible version of black eyed peas my family will eat (LuLu’s L.A. Caviar, a fine recipe indeed to convince my family to eat black-eyed peas with a smile). I will stir some cold, canned collard greens into my reheated Chinese food, too. I must do this, because black-eyed peas, collard greens, and cornbread ensure wealth in the new year in the South. To sit on the couch and nurse my cold instead invites financial disaster. Years when I’ve tried to forgo it, and I felt a pang every time I had to tap my savings account. Doesn’t matter that I likely still had to tap the savings account on the years that I did. I suppose the luck is having a savings account to begin with. I suppose the head cold is also good luck – I am so congested, I will not be fully aware of the odorous intestinal results from my family thanks to the fiber in the black-eyed peas.
The point here? I have had years when I have intentionally bucked the traditions. I have had years when life was weird or hard, and I just didn’t get there. And I noticed. I noticed. Maybe the universe didn’t, but I did. So we went to the lakehouse. We ate the grapes. I just had a hot piece of cornbread. I am getting out the dressed up black-eyed peas. I can reassure myself throughout 2020 that I did the things that brought the luck, and my path is going to be just as awesome as it possibly could be. Of course it will. I bought my insurance, and tomorrow, I'll have the righteous farts to prove it.
Hi. I'm Amanda Dobbs.