The other night, I was walking with Gemma. I got to the top of the street and looked up to see the full moon in the sky above me. I audibly gasped. Or yelped. Then started walking back home. By the time I walked through the front door, I was uncontrollably sobbing.
My dad died. My dad died over Christmas.
It has been a whirlwind of activity since. Travel. Visitation. Burial. Lots of decision-making. Lots of things to take care of. And all the phone calls. My father had so many friends–every time I look through his contact list, I find another name to call and share the sad news.
There are lots of things I want to say about my dad (good thing I have a blog). He could talk to anyone anywhere about anything with genuine interest and could work a room without being “on.” He was particularly sentimental, and could be as easily moved by a church hymn as by a Carolina Panthers win. He had a soft spot for dogs, and any four-legged creature that entered his house risked being spoiled rotten. He had a love and respect for history, and his bookshelf is lined with tomes about Roosevelts, Kennedys, and Europe in World War II. (I think there’s an Edward Rutherfurd novel among the mix, but that’s almost the same, isn’t it?)
He was a private man–I’m likely sharing more here than he’d want folks to know–but he always opened his home and heart to friends and family. He could be opinionated–a dominant gene–but he was also amazingly informed and deep. One of my favorite memories is, as a teenager, sitting with him by a roaring fire in December. I’m on the couch wrapped in an old blanket while he sits cross-legged on the floor. We spend the next several hours talking about everything—life and history, spirituality and politics, insights of our past and hopes for the future—until the clock strikes four in the morning and the glowing embers die out. Clearly, this apple doesn’t fall far from the existential tree.
He and my mom split when I was only five and our time together was limited to weekends and later, after he moved down South for his work, school breaks and holidays. We learned how to make the most of it. Quality time over quantity time, we’d say. The telephone became our lifeline and every single day after school, I’d dial his 800-work-number and tell him about my day. Even as an adult, I rarely went a week without speaking to him.
When I was little and he dropped me off at my mom’s after our weekend together–the rite of most kids of divorce–he’d say to me, “Go look at the moon. It’s the same moon I’ll be looking at.” It meant that, even as the miles divided us, he was as close as looking up, that I wasn’t alone. It’s a phrase and action we returned to again and again over the decades, even when I grew up and moved with my husband to New York City. Especially then.
So, looking up at Thursday’s bright and beautiful Wolf Moon, it was the first time I saw the moon without my dad on this planet to look at it too. It will be the first of many moons I see without him. I lost my breath at the thought. All the busy-ness of the past couple weeks ground to a halt and grief finally had its chance to push through. The tears fell faster than I could catch them.
I suspect that grief is not something I work through; it will work itself through me. It’ll pop up when I least expect it–seeing a photograph, sitting at a stop light, hearing a song, or doing absolutely nothing–flooding me with emotions and tears and maybe, one day, smiles. But, as my dad often reminded me, it’s good that we miss people. It means they’re important to us. It means that we love them. And I know I will miss my dad very, very much.