Washing Brushes

April 17, 2011

My birthday is tomorrow but I have to admit that ever since my dad died it has actually become a pretty hard day for me. I just can't erase that birthday from three years ago.  It was the last time I ever heard his voice because they took him off the ventilators for a brief period. He looked awful but as the month progressed I realized in retrospect that it was one of his strongest days. I wish I had talked to him more and spent more of that day by his side. I hate hospitals and I was in such shock about everything that was happening that I kept leaving the room to catch my breath. My dad picked up on that and actually kind of snapped at me about getting it together because he needed me to be strong. I needed to hear that and I did pull it together, but I still feel guilty about that. It's all just such a mixed up situation. This whole sandwich generation business. For me it was compressed into a very intense month of vacillating between feeling like a three year and wanting/needing my daddy to scold me and comfort me while also suddenly taking on the impossibly adult role of making horrendous medical decisions, being a support for both of my parents, rubbing my dad's feet, sleeping in shifts, and trying to be available to my children from both a physical and emotional distance. 

It is always so challenging and awkward to know what to say after someone has experienced a loss. Words of sympathy usually sound so trite and empty. Often they are said more to fill that uneasy, quiet space for the one standing outside of the intense grief, the one who is grappling with how to offer comfort. It's never easy to really find right the right words but I have never forgotten the words that one of Adam's colleagues shared with me soon after my father's funeral. I didn't know her very well, but she walked right up to me, looked me straight in the eyes and said: "I know you saw some terrible things during your father's illness, I just want you to know that those images will eventually become dimmer and they will be replaced by the better ones. That's what happened when my dad died after a long illness". She said it with such sincerity, honesty, and clarity that it gave me more hope and comfort than anything else I heard in those hazy weeks right after his death. And they continue to give me comfort because they are turning out to be true. 

I no longer have the same "flashbacks" to what he looked like in those final days and that's a very good thing. I am no where near the weepy mess I was in that first year after his death. I still feel a pinch in my heart when I unexpectedly find a slip of paper with his handwriting on it or a photograph of him but now that is mixed with a smile because I like those surprising reminders. I can now tell my children stories about their grandpa or "gumpa" (that's what Camille used to called him) without becoming teary-eyed and choked up. But I still yearn for his voice. And that's why I was smiling few weeks ago when I was washing out some paintbrushes. Out of nowhere, I could suddenly hear his voice telling me how to do it. Just like he used to do when I was a kid. Just like he used to teach his students. I wish I had recorded some of the big conversations we had over the years, but those are now just fragmented pieces in my memory. It's funny how the words that stay with me so clearly are his instructions on how to clean a brush or how he loved to slap his knee and say "that's the real deal". It turns out it that it really is the small things that matter. Small, unexpected, ordinary, mundane words that now mean so much to me.
likeschocolate said...

Hard to know what to say, but it makes me happy to know you had such a wonderful relationship with your father. I love my father because he is my father, but have never been very close to him because of the distance that has seperated us all these years. I don't really have these kind of memories that you do. I hope you have a lovely birthday.

Mom2Isabel said...

wow. Lucia, your gift with language astounds me and transport me. I am sitting here about to start dyeing eggs and have tears in my eyes.

It IS the small things, isn't it.

My mom will be turning 70 this year on Mother's Day. You post has caused me to stop and really think.

Thank you.

L & I

PS And Happy Birthday to you, my sweet friend!

Laurie said...

It is the little things...I took Hannah to a farm last week, and I could hear my grandad explaining how things grew in his garden. I am so glad the worst images are fading and being replaced by the ones that makes you smile. Your dad was a lucky man.

Happy birthday, friend.

se7en said...

You have such a beautiful talent for expressing yourself... may you have many more happy memories spring to mind and many more paint brushes to clean. lots of love.

jill kissinger said...

i have to say...that post brings tears to my eyes. those words are so honest, so transparent, and so true. having experienced a similar grief, it is like you are inside my head. maybe because we are such close friends and maybe because you are "pure of heart". i love you and THANK YOU so much for sharing this intimate post. i long for the day "we" can see "them" again:) i know Flip and your dad are enjoying each others company and smiling down on us<3 love you all, Jill

Mom said...

What a beautiful post.

Dana said...

I understand that part about not knowing what to say...and I'm even feeling it now.
Happy Birthday and thanks for opening your heart to us -- I have a feeling your dad may have liked that.

Anonymous said...

Ahhh...you are an artist in your own right. Not sure how you are with a paint brush but you are amazing with words. Captivating! I know your Dad is proud of you. (Just as you are of him) Because even though he has passed from this earth, he IS still with you. And that is a wonderful thing. How lucky you are to have had such a wonderful relationship. And what a gift to be able to teach your children about him through your words.

So, happy birthday and happy "aren't I lucky to have had such an awesome Dad" day too.


Corinne said...

I am thinking of you - this post is so poignant. I want to wish you a very very happy birthday. I can't think of something right to say except that your memories from your childhood with your dad just make my heart feel full. What an incredible experience to have him as a father. I wish so much that he was not gone from you right now - may even more memories from your life together make you smile soon :)

jann said...

This was so moving. What you write is close to my experience, and it's made me reflect on it anew. Grazie. Thanks for a really beautiful piece.

sarah said...

your dad would love this post!

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