When the person you love most dies, it doesn’t hurt. The word “hurt” implies that you feel something. The truth is, all you really feel is numb.
I had two years to prepare for the death of my father. The clock began ticking the day the phone rang in my homeroom class during my senior of high school.
It was a wall mounted rotary phone that could only be used to communicate with the administration office and my teacher answered, listened intently, then hung up.
“You need to go to the front office, there’s a call for you,” he said.
Arriving at the office, I picked up the phone and heard my mother’s voice. She began to give me the “facts” in her WASPy style, a style which I’ve heard come out of my own mouth too often in the ensuing years.
It’s a measured, concerned type of tone that attempts to convey the message, “yes, we have a situation here, but let’s take it step by step and not get ahead of ourselves.”
I hung in with her until the part about a brain tumor. Everything after that’s a blank.
During a presentation at his office, my father had frozen on a word. He couldn’t get it out. Then he had a seizure and fell to the floor.
He was rushed to the hospital and given a CAT scan, which found the source of the problem. One of those annoying cancerous tumors had decided it would call his brain home.
The following two years had moments of sorrow and pain, and surprisingly, joy as well. But still, nothing in those twenty-four months could prepare me for the day we lowered his casket into the ground.
In the twenty-five years since, I have thought about my father often. He was the greatest person I’d ever known.
At the time of his death, I loved him more than I loved anyone else in my life, and only with the birth of my children have I loved someone more. He was like me, but without the asshole part, possessing all my good traits and none of my flaws.
Eventually, I accepted the fact that he wouldn’t there with me for the important and special events in my life. Yet the only thing that I could never come to terms with was that he would never get to meet my children–or they him.
Then something amazing happened. Something I never would have expected. Something I never would have believed. I had a dream.
Once, at a party I was attending, I noticed a large group of people surrounding a lady who was clearly holding court. As I listened to the conversation, I realized that she was doing dream interpretations. Enthusiastic and hopeful believers were peppering her with all sorts of questions, trying to discover the hidden meaning in their dreams.
Questions about unicorns, and rainbows, and swimming with dolphins. I walked right into the middle of the circle and said to her with a straight face, “Last night, I had a dream I was in a pit of naked men, covered in honey. What do you think that means?”
Suffice to say, that’s generally how I feel about dream interpretation. But this dream was different. It was a powerful dream. A dream where you not only see, hear, and smell the people it in, but you feel them.
In this dream, I was at home with my wife. My daughter was playing in the yard. With her grandfather. My father. There he was, albeit somewhat older, doing his patented “I’ve got your nose” gag, and making her squeal with laughter.
I watched from inside the house as my wife went about making dinner. It did not strike me as unusual that my father was alive, well, and playing with his four-year-old granddaughter. I just felt a sense of calm, of peace, and of all things being right with the world.
Then in an instant, everything changed.
Suddenly, my daughter turned and ran into the street. A sense of fear and dread that only a parent can understand ran through me. I saw cars at the end of the street coming her way. I saw the joy of my life ending. I saw my reason for living gone.
Almost instantly, my father ran after her. I bolted out of the house, but he had a head start and was closer. She ran down the street and though he tried, he could not catch up with her.
I pushed my legs furiously, watching the cars that were closing in on her, and I knew time was running out. I passed up my father and came within a few feet of her. Just as I thought everything was lost, I made a mad lunge forward — stretching out as far as I could — and scooped her up into my arms and to safety.
I awoke to a stillness in my bedroom that clashed with the frenzied dream, and at first I was disoriented. Slowly, I began the process of coming back to reality – the part where you remind yourself that “it was only a dream.”
Then something inside made me stop. Something made me not only want to hold onto the dream, but to make it real. So, for the first and only time in my life, I chose the Orwellian concept of “doublethink” — choosing to not only believe something untrue is true, but actively forgetting the decision to do it — thus making it a reality.
I chose to believe that my father had visited and played with my daughter because the feelings in my dream were as real and valid as anything I’d ever felt in my life.
I also chose to understand that my father chasing after my daughter, and I passing him up and bringing her to safety, was a metaphor.
That the days when I watched him at his workbench, slowly and steadily bringing to life some project that my young mind couldn’t fathom, were, despite how much I longed for them to linger, gone forever.
That I had gone from being the admirer to the admired. From the protected to the protector. It was a message telling me that I had passed from being just a son, to being a father in my own right.
The dream also helped me understand that my children could “meet” my father every day, through me, from the parts of me that were from him.
It’s years later and I now have a two-year-old son. As I watch him play, and learn, and grow, I look forward to the day my father comes to visit him as well.