My father is dead.
It is exactly two months and twelve days since he died.
Today he would have turned 70.
My tribe, other concerned friends, occasionally extended family, keep asking me how I am holding up. I have no answer for them. I’m functioning, mostly, getting through the days without messing up anything major – at least visibly.
Somedays, of course, are better than others. Sometimes I am mostly numb which is better than the waves of grief and loss and pain and rage that seem to crash down relentlessly on some days.
Mondays, for example, and the occasional Friday, are particularly bad. These were the days when the old man had no college and so we went to pick monkey up from school, together. He was paranoid about finding parking in the melee that is school-letting-out-time, so we usually arrived there at 10.45ish for an 11.40 event. This was the time for overboiled sweet tea and much conversation. In fact, over the last 8 years or so, this is when the real talking happened.
And we did talk. About everything. There was no possible topic, no opinion, no secret that I could not share with him. There was so much ranting that I did with him – about so much that happens in everyday life. All that is gone. Every time I cross that lane where he liked to park, on my way to the school, it is a reminder that I will no longer be turning into that lane, sitting at that little tea stall, and just unloading my mind.
Most evenings are bad too, since he was always so ready to get the car out to go drop the daughter and the grandchild home. On the days that I visit the flat these days, it is an effort and a downer to shut all the doors and windows, turn off all lights, and lock up an empty – and increasingly musty smelling – apartment as we leave. It is even worse to struggle with bags, monkey, rain, umbrellas, and public transport because it is all a reminder that he will no longer be dropping me home…. Ever.
Dance performances are going to be those times too… since he was always ready with a smile and the car to ferry bunches of dressed up kids from the teacher’s house to the venue. And I almost want to tell monkey to never participate in another ever again, simply in order not to have to face the first time I will have to do it alone.
Strangely (to me at least) this is all pretty intermittent. Some days go pretty well, no biggie, hardly think of it, even if someone mentions it or asks the usual “was he ill? What did he die of?” kind of questions, it doesn’t throw me. I answer and move on. Other days I can hardly get myself to function and get through the day. The entirety of the waking hours becomes one long exercise in not crying at inappropriate times at inappropriate places…or at all…
Some days begin well, and then something triggers a wave…something trivial maybe…like seeing ripe papayas or mangoes for sale at a fruit vendor’s (his favorites, and pretty much all he ate for the last month or so, along with prepackaged spicy chicken wings – none of which I can get myself to eat right now).
The month and a half that he was ill, and in and out of hospitals, I could not sleep unless I was falling-down-drunk. Self-medicated every evening with vodka to get through the night so that I could function the next day and do all the running around necessary. It was a nightmare time, although it was comparatively short (for which I am extremely grateful, and that is another thing which can set me off…. The fact that I am glad that the nightmare time didn’t last longer, that he went before it could. Does this mean I am glad he died when he did?).
These days, most nights I am back to my usual schedule…bed at 10, read till 2 or so, and then sleep. Most nights I sleep well. Except the nights I don’t sleep at all. Can’t. or the nights I have weird vivid dreams of him and wake too early. Come to think of it, I wake most days to weird dreams of him, these days. Some dreams are just weirder than others.
I had no idea it was possible to feel this way, to miss someone so much and so constantly. I haven’t ever lost anyone so close to me. Grandparents, yes, including one grandmother who I loved very much and who I was very close to, but this is so much worse! Not only is losing a father always tough, but he was – always had been – one of my closest friends. And to make matters worse, I’ve practically lived with my parents, for on reason or another, for something like the last 11 years.
He was a constant presence, in my life and in monkey’s, and a reliable, dependable, fun, supportive one at that. Glad to run errands or quickly step out to the shops for anything I or the most-doted-on grandchild needed; always glad to spend one on one time with either of us; always hands on with care for the monkey, from changing diapers when she as little to having her stay over as she got older, which meant all the required care in the mornings.
The daily absence is jarring. To turn the key, unlatch the door and walk into the flat is to expect him to be sitting there at the head of the dining table with his laptop open and his computer books spread out around him. To turn my head and NOT see that is almost debilitating sometimes. I must force myself to hyperventilate to deal with the sharp, very physical pain that lances through my insides at that. Not to mention all the other details through the day. No one to run out and get something twenty times aa day or go to the ATM, it’s my job now; no one to make really witty but sometimes incredibly crass jokes about just about anything; no one taking siesta while I work next to him; there is just SO MUCH absence! Every day! In so many little things that one never noticed, which lurk everywhere to strike when you don’t expect it and destroy you.
And the shock on people’s faces when I suddenly, unexpectedly, have to break the news to them. I take a laptop to the neighbourhood repair shop to be fixed. He cannot give me an estimate offhand but offers to find out the cost and call “uncle” with it. And I have to explain to him why he cannot do that. “but he was here last month! Buying a cable! Joking with us!” and I tell him yes, it was all very sudden, yes it was unexpected, yes uncle was so active, so young, yes, yes, ….
Monkey falls ill and we go to the pediatrician, just to make sure it is not a relapse of the dengue she fought last year. Consultation over, while I hand over the fee… doc asks monkey “so, how’s grandpa doing?” (because he regularly volunteered to take us to the doctor, and because he was in the next hospital bed when monkey had the dengue last year) and we have to explain all over again. To the lab where blood is drawn for her tests, because they were his regular place for once in three months blood glucose checks for his diabetes. To the cablewala, the courier guy, the grocer, an old friend of his from college days who calls me to ask why he can’t get through, why the calls to his number are saying “out of service area” constantly.
People constantly want to talk about it. They stop me in the street, and I have to fidget and squirm through endless rehashing of the exact sequence of events and many noises of how he was so young, and active, and how he was the last person they would have thought of to die like that, and how little while ago they saw him last – his usual self – until I have to interrupt and say I am on my way to school to pick up the child… or the bank, or something, anything, whatever gets me out of there. Someone calls, old family friends who have just arrived in Kolkata. They want me to come over. I DON’T want to, because all it will be is another 3-hour session of the same, with possible added waterworks.
I don’t want to have to deal with any of that. I just want to wake up now, please! I am not crying, haven’t cried. I wish I had had more time to talk to him (after the diagnosis, when we could have sorted out so many things), but I know it would have been horrible given how rapidly things were deteriorating at the end. I wish he had died a day or so sooner, so he didn’t have to feel the anger, the helplessness, and the betrayal of being intubated and put on a respirator (something he gave strict instructions not to do). I feel guilty for letting it happen, letting him down. I wish he had lived another 20 years, seen monkey graduate college. I wish he had lived another year – as predicted – so we could have gone to Yellowstone. I don’t know WHAT I wish.
There’s paperwork, legal hassles, arrangements, bills, payments, just a lot of work, and I don’t know how I am handling it all. But I seem to be. Most days I don’t know how I did it. A “good” day means I was empty and numb. A “bad” day means I probably didn’t manage anything more than the barest minimum. But still, at least that day passed. I have no idea when it will get any better, or if it ever does. I could probably use a total break to rest, recoup, and deal with things, but that’s not going to happen anytime soon.
Happy Birthday anyway, old man. I wish we believed in souls and afterlife so I could imagine you happy somewhere, looking in on us occasionally maybe. But I don’t, and you didn’t, so that’s just that, I guess.