I’m writing this on October 31, which, in addition to being Halloween, is also the anniversary of the day my father died. It’s been two years since my uncle called, with no warning, to tell me that my father was in the ICU in Philadelphia. Two years since I begged a nurse to keep him alive through the night so I could get there in time to say goodbye. Two years since that nurse called me back to tell me that she was sorry, but he just didn’t make it.
Last year at this time, I wrote about how the first year after he died was all about getting through a full cycle of holidays and birthdays, and learning which of them would make me sad. I thought that, by knowing that Rosh Hashanah would be a hard day, or that my daughter’s birthday would make me cry, I’d be able to anticipate the sadness in the future and be prepared for it.
In some respects, that was true. The holidays, in their predictability, were a little bit easier this time around. But what caught me off guard this year were the little reminders that I came across unexpectedly. His favorite song playing in the market had me fleeing to my car in tears. The smell of roasted pumpkin seeds – something he made every year – caused me to catch my breath. Running into one of his old friends at camp visiting day sent me into a tailspin.
And while those things were unsettling, more unsettling were some of the thoughts I’ve had this last year. You have to understand, I’m not a spiritual person. I’m a total skeptic when it comes to things like psychics and people who claim to be able to contact the dead. I don’t believe in ghosts, or in past lives, or even in heaven and hell.
But I’ll tell you, some weird stuff crosses your mind when you’ve lost someone close to you. For example, I’ve been hiking the exact same mountain trail for nearly fifteen years. In fifteen years, I’ve seen exactly two rattlesnakes on that trail, and both time in the heat of summer, when you’d most expect to see them. But last year I saw a rattlesnake three weeks in a row, in almost the same exact spot on the trail. In winter. By the third week, I had myself convinced that the rattlesnake was my father, and that it was trying to contact me. Ridiculous, I know.
Similarly, when my father died, there was a question about whether he had a safe deposit box somewhere and it’s remained a mystery. But last year, I had a dream in which my father sat across from me at a table and informed me that the box was actually a safe, and it was in his former office. The dream was so real, I was positive that it must be true. So I called the office, and they thought I’d lost my mind. And I kind of thought so, too. Finally, the day that I heard his favorite song in the market, I wasn’t just reminded of him. As crazy as it sounds, I felt like he was actually there with me. I could feel his presence in the market.
Now, the rational part of my brain knows that this is all silly and ridiculous – seriously, a rattlesnake? – but there’s a part of me that clearly is falling for this stuff. My husband lost his father over twenty years ago, when he was seventeen. I asked him recently if he ever has dreams or silly ideas like I do, or if little things ever make him sad anymore. But he said no. Not anymore. He told me that so much time has passed, he hardly ever even thinks about his dad, and he told me that he wished little things affected him the way they still affect me. He wished that he felt connected to his dad more often.
And so that’s what I’ve realized, in this second year of mourning my father. No matter how silly or ridiculous an idea is, no matter how sad I might get about hearing a song or smelling a smell, no matter how hard a holiday or a birthday might be, I shouldn’t try to anticipate those feelings away, or to push them down, or to dismiss them as absurd. Instead, I should be thankful for those moments, and I should cherish them.
Because if my husband is any indication, then someday, they too, like my dad, will be gone.