Life Goes On and On and On and On… More Reflections on the Death of a Parent

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Today I saw my father-in-law for the first time since my father passed away. He was kind and sympathetic. He told me a brief story about his father’s death in the hall near the balustrade before he left for work. For him, it felt momentous. He described it as “this horrible thing that had happened.” He officially became the oldest male in the family. He felt a deep emptiness afterward. But the hardest part for him wasn’t necessarily that his father was gone, but how the world just kept moving on. 

As he put it, this horrible thing had happened. He and his family were forever altered. But the world did not really care. Sure, they cared for a bit. The cards, calls, and flowers came for a bit. But the unceasing movement of life just kept going. And soon no one asked about his father. 

As I think about this now as I write, I am nearly moved to tears. I’m struggling with that fact– the fact that life just goes on despite your pain.  The world has started to move on since my dad’s death. Hell, I’ve started to move on. I left my mother’s place yesterday after spending 5 weeks there. My mom cried as I left and thanked me for being there. I felt overwhelming guilt leaving her. But there was nothing to do. I had to leave. Life moves forward. It is just the way. Evolution tells us everything grows otherwise it dies. 

So I move forward. I’m spending a much-needed week off near some nature this week. This morning I stared out onto the Fraser River and the Pacific Ocean, watched the glimmer of water waves ripple up and down. I cried as I thought about my father and wondered where he was. I cried thinking about our last weeks together. I cried thinking about one of the last conversations we had in November when I came home for Thanksgiving. My mom went to pick up some Hunan food, and I sat with him in the living room. 

He opened up to me that day. He told me his heart hurt with sadness. That he was unhappy. That things with his wife, our mom, had deteriorated badly. I didn’t say much. I just mostly listened. I think I told him I was sorry. But that was about it. 

I don’t know why that makes me so sad to think about now. I suppose it was because my dad’s last few years on earth, maybe his last few decades on this earth were unhappy. Maybe because he was always a pretty unhappy person, I wished he had found more joy in his life. And the sad part is that it will never happen. Illness and death have a finality in that way. 

I haven’t quite made sense on how to move forward. Life goes on and on and on and on… yet I feel so unsettled by that fact. How does one jump back on the train of commerce? How does one ignore sickness, aging, and death and just keep going forward? Because on some level, all of us have to ignore the fact of death to get through a day. Don’t we? 

Maybe not. Maybe because I’m a therapist, but maybe because I’ve always loved literature and have just been sensitive as hell, I am have always been fascinated and terrified of death. I remember in 7th grade, each of us had a journal we had to write in a few times a week. One time, Mrs. Mansheim, who had classic white-lady perm and librarian glasses, asked us to write about one thing we would change. What topic did I choose?

 I wrote that I would eliminate death if I could. I still feel that way. If I could I would bring back my aunt who died in September 2020, who I loved dearly, and my dad. But I can’t. So it goes. 

I realize this is a particularly rambling post. I think it is because I don’t have anything coherent to say about any of this. It just hurts, and life just keeps moving on and on and on and on. I suppose my experience isn’t unique. It will happen to everyone. But I must say I have a new understanding of grief, pain, and death. 

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