Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Twenty Two Years Without Him

My father Carl has been dead 22 years today.

He was 50 years old and had already had a few heart attacks before this final, fatal one. You'll appreciate this: he suffered this last heart attack while addressing a conference of his professional peers. When he felt the familiar chest pains he coolly stepped away from the podium, beckoned his secretary Mona Kay from the wings, told her to call an ambulance, and stepped back to finish his address. I imagine he was as nattily dressed as ever in one of his impeccable suits, smashing ties and soft leather Bally loafers. He had thinning salt-and-pepper hair and a handsome beak of a nose. He had a full 'stache and piercing chocolate chip eyes behind glasses. He was short, and he walked like he knew it. Lots of short man attitude, but never Napoleonic. He had a commanding presence and a wonderful deep voice which was perfect for singing fake opera, which he did often at home in the bathroom.
He did not suffer fools easily. This was said of him at his funeral, and hundreds of people exploded with laughter. Oh yea, they murmured.
It was also said of him that if you ran into him in the hall at the end of the work day, you would look at your watch at the end of the conversation and realize you had missed two trains. He was an extroverted gabber.

I am very much his child.

His last words were, "Take care of my babies." He had three: 19, 17 and 14 years old. Such a domineering Jewish papa he was. Difficult, demanding, volatile. He wrote to me in a Valentine's Day card one year that he was so proud of me his heart swelled ("a sometimes unhealthy thing to do"). I think too much love and passion to achieve and feeling killed him.

I am very much his child.

About a year before he died, we were driving home from dinner at my Uncle Marvin's, chatting with great intensity and mutual admiration as we always did, and my dad pulled into a little parking lot about ten minutes from home. All the stores were closed so I asked him why we had stopped. He was holding onto the steering wheel of his chocolate brown Mercedez-Benz and weeping.

"You're going to be such a great woman and I'm not going to live to see it," he said. He knew "his ticker," as he called it, was likely to give out. All at the ripe old age of 50. Because he was one of those type A+ guys who just couldn't quit.

When I came home from school one evening less than a year later and Mom said those fateful three words, "Honey, Daddy died," it smashed something in my insides that has never knit back together. I don't think it ever does. (Dena, this is for you, whose so-called "friends" expect that you'll be done grieving your grandmother's death in a few months).

I was in the grocery store this past Saturday afternoon when I heard a song that used to play right after he died that used to just flatten me with grief. I don't remember all the lyrics but the singer asks, "Is everything alright? I just called to tell the world how I miss you" and "Is everything okay...?"

Hearts can break
and never mend together
Love can fade away

Hearts can cry
when love won't stay forever
Hearts can be that way.

Something like that. I never did ever memorize the song. I think it's called "Hearts." I can't really stand to hear it or "Claire de Lune" by Debussy, which was the last song played at his memorial service. Yet I always seem to hear one or the other song at moments I most crave his presence, even when I'm not aware of it.

So I was standing in the Stop & Shop and a wave of grief and longing hit me so hard I actually could not move. I stood there glued to the floor in front of the pharmacist's counter remembering that spring 22 years ago when I was a teenaged girl and I had just learned that I would never hear my father's voice again, never hug him again, never cuddle on the couch next to him to spend an evening lulled by the sound of his voice hollering bloody murder at the NY Giants.

That T.S. Eliot knew what he was talking about.

April is the cruelest month, and I sure do miss you, CDW.


Blogger Peregrinato said...

Amen, and amen.

Anonymous Catherine said...

A beautiful tribute to your dad. I'm sorry for your loss, he sounds like an absolutely remarkable man. Having grown up without a father, I am equally sorry for your loss and envious of the time you had with him. You are so fortunate to have had him to love you. And he was fortunate to have such a loving daughter. (((big hug)))

Anonymous SOPB said...

Thanks for that PB. Goddamn it pull yourself up by your bootstraps! CDW lives on every time I BEG one of my kids to learn from other people's mistakes...shoot an intense glare across the room or laugh heartily at one of their cute remarks.


Blogger PeaceBang said...

Whattya mean? Sitting in my car at the beach and sobbing isn't pulling myself up by my boostraps!!??

My eyes are like tiny raisins today. I'm FINE. Especially since I can imagine Sister of Peacebang bringing Carl's inimitable brand of Tough Love (which causes everyone in the room to fall madly enchanted with them while hoping desperately for a special look, a tiny tetch of approval, or one outburst of that roaring laugh) to a classroom of little scramblers.

Blogger PeaceBang said...

Also, I forgot to say: most years I just feel the slightest bit sad or annoyed on April 5th(as in "Oh yeah, him. That guy who broke my heart!").
I wonder why it happens that suddenly this old grief just bursts out of the water like a humpback and lands on me, *squash*?

Carl also has two beensy weensy grandsons now, who have the CDW big chocolate chip eyes, courtesy of their father, Brother of Peacebang (and their Mom isn't bad in the big chocolate chip eyes department herself). He would have called them "squirts" or "peanut." And when crossing the street he would have sternly said, "Give me your paw."

Blogger Peregrinato said...

PB writes, "I wonder why it happens that suddenly this old grief just bursts out of the water like a humpback and lands on me, *squash*?"

It is the cliched--but no less true--waves of grief. When we first experience the loss, the waves are frequent and intense. As we accomodate the loss, and learn to live with it--I will never, ever say "get over it"--the waves may subside, but they may still come.

Ultimately it is not about overcoming grief. That is, I believe, an unhealthy way of being, as though living with loss is an aberration. Living means learning to live with loss; accomodating it does not mean embracing it, or coming to a point of benign transcendence as though the loss does not matter. It simply means we have learned to wrestle with angels, and though we may walk with a limp, we keep walking--and maybe we see things better, and more clearer than before. Peace.

Blogger fausto said...

Blessings to you, PB. Glad you're better today. I lost my grandmother in 1992 and still get those waves too from time to time. Losing a parent must be that much worse.

I agree with peregrinato's sage remarks about living with grief and wrestling with angels (but let's not start referring to Stop & Shop as "Penuel").

Blogger jfield said...

Oh that the oil of gladness could dissolve all mourning. Anniversaries can be so hard. My dad died 16 years ago. It comes up most for me during the holidays (but was worst when my kids were born).

Take extra good care of yourself, and don't be afraid to get support from your community.

Blogger sari gordon said...

awww, PB, you just killed me. "Take my paw" is just too much. I've always thought your Carl was related to my Sam, the best dad ever (on the west coast. He had to move when Carl showed up.)

I'm just starting to get my arms around the sensation of living without my mom while still feeling that she is here. It's a strange phenomenom of living from within our parents DNA; seeing out from their chocolate browns and looking in the mirror and seeing ourselves and then wanting to reach over and say, "Hey, now I get why you did that!" or, "I'm sorry I didn't appreciate what you did there." My mother's life isn't over until I forget her and I remember her more almost every day.

You are totally your father's daughter. You've always talked about him and made me feel like I knew him, too.

I'm sorry he isn't here to see what a wonderful woman you are (though I think he'd like me better.)

Now take my paw... please!

Blogger T-man-Sam_former Visigoth and musical Goddess said...

A terrific tribute that informs on so many levels, a daughters and families love, a great description of his character, dignity and values ( the old fashioned kind of values, a knowledge and sense of self and duty... not the modernsanctimonious 'values').

For a short life, your father, to his great credit, left his mark and your sharing is a wonderful tribute in his memory, though you grieve, you take time to celebrate a good man!

Isn't there a great jewish tradition of planting a tree in someones name (or one should plant a tree during their life??) Plant one for your father, a suitable tree that resembles his character and tend it every spring.
Like Sari, my humble paw is proffered.


Blogger PeaceBang said...

Hey there T-man,
It took my mom a year to find someone who would "take" Carl's ashes, as our Unitarian church didn't have a cemetery. We eventually potted him outside the politce station in New Canaan, CT, where he had served as volunteer Police Commissioner for 8 years. We planted a pear tree over the ashes and it's now huge and gorgeous.

Blogger mikepearce said...

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