I’m really happy – pumped even – to share a post from Kevin Chapman in Afterwards this week! Kevin works, lives, eats and breathes on Vancouver Island, BC. The occasional thirst for meaning and a loose armchair philosophy inspire him to write on themes that reveal life causations through seemingly apparent natural order – transcendentalist musings. He hopes you read, agree, disagree or at least think about what he has to write. Kevin lost his dad suddenly in 2008 and I thank him for sharing a bit of his experience with us here.
It’s 1988. I’m sitting shotgun in the old rusty Datsun 510 idling out front of our house, waiting for dad to find his misplaced sunglasses; his infamous routine of running back inside once everything was set to leave. It could be a forgotten pack of gum, starting the dishwasher, grabbing a comb (he always had one stuffed in the back pocket) but most of the time it was sunglasses. Like clockwork, I sat with the idling car for a short eternity stewing over the promise of actually leaving.
It was my first camping trip. The Datsun was stuffed with brown Woodwards sleeping bags, a dome tent, tarps, fishing rods and tackle. Even at five years old I thought the Datsun was too small a car for such a big camping trip. Regardless, with his Varnet shades secured, dad dropped the clutch, threw the car into first and we headed west.
. . .
These aren’t the things that come to mind when you get the news your father has passed away. No news compares to hearing, “Your Dad didn’t make it . . . he’s gone.”
“Make what? What are we making? Where has he gone?”
I remember feeling unaffected by the news when it fell, it wasn’t like the movies, I just heard the information about my dad’s death but never actually felt anything. Some call it shock but I argue it’s a complete lack of comprehension – some say they’re one in the same. For me, shock is chopping off one of your fingers by accident and realizing the horror of what just happened. Hearing my dad had died left no immediate sting, horrific idea or emotional pain attached to it, simply because it had never happened before, the concept was foreign. Someone could say my dad had just turned into a tuna fish and it would have elicited the same reaction. Greif was not in the equation.
The word ‘grief’ never sat well with me, it’s a blanket term that shitty family counselors toss around to help the living negotiate their complex and unexplainable emotions. It assumes comprehension but undermines the relationship, the value, the person, the process and the loss. No one wants to hear, “you’ll be better once you grieve.”
“No, I won’t be better once I ‘grieve.’ I’ll be better once I have my dad back for a night of chicken wings, beer and a Flames game. Dammit.”
I’m not cynical. I think it’s important to have family and community in a time of loss for emotional support and otherwise, but we are supporting each other’s individual loss. That’s the difference. True grieving, like dying, is done alone. No one will have the right words and no one will have the right answer.
. . .
The months following dad’s death, emotional collapse found me in the oddest of places. I could stomach an entire Father’s Day golf tournament or father-son bbq, but put me past the tool aisle in Canadian Tire and I couldn’t keep a dry eye. As much as I put my dad out of my head to get through the days, he inevitably found his way back into my consciousness. At first, I couldn’t go an hour without being reminded of something; a familiar road we travelled, sports radio, the hamburgers at Safeway.
I’m unsure at what point it happens, but when the mind begins accepting the idea that someone is out of your life forever, it starts to introduce memories back in. Almost like a partner trying to regain the trust of an abandoned one, the mind starts to give snapshots of who that person was and what they meant in your life. We’ve all been there, it’s that moment of surrender when you’re actually emotionally secure enough to throw them into a story casually. We try it on, we get a temperature of our emotional well-being and go from there, and pretty soon we can openly write chapters out of the story of our lives with thanks to the person who we loved and lost, but still lives strong in the narrative of our life.
In realizing a loved one creates the fabric of our character, the prospect of knowing one day we will be a fiber woven into someone else’s thread may give an inkling of context to how this crazy world works; why we are the way we are. Helpless, we are a construction of the influences surrounding us, for better or worse. And in that reflection of character, we have the able mind to interpret the roles of those who shaped us. Perhaps then, ‘grief’ is better known to me as a gift of observation, for in loss we can only truly begin to observe and appreciate one’s life by the impression they’ve left.
Now, knowing the influence of my dad has forever stopped in the days to come, I’m left only with the impressions and traits found in myself. So when I find myself running five minutes late with an idling car out front as I pillage the house in haste for my sunglasses, I stop, smile and remember who I am.