It’s been five weeks, to the day, since my father died. After a week, I was suspicious that something bizarre was happening: I hadn’t really cried yet.
Now, five weeks later, I’m pretty much convinced that I’m inhuman.
Seriously, how does one go five weeks from the death of a parent, who you actually not only loved but mostly liked, and not have a good old sobbing fit?
Okay, sure, I can explain how to avoid it. (Hell, I already did.) But aside from the logistics, what kind of person manages to hold all of his emotional reactions inside for five weeks?
Two thumbs pointed back at myself. That’s what kind. (Also, the kind that both uses the “two thumbs” analogy and refers to himself in the first person for an audience.)
I can give you excuses. Maybe that’s harsh… I can give you justifications. Rationalizations, even. I’ve been busy.
I’ve been dealing with the logistics of my dad’s death, from cremation to life insurance to hacking into his credit report so that I know what I have to deal with. I’ve been finding and paying off loans. I’ve been filing for and eventually collecting life insurance. I’ve been setting up a trust, putting everything my father owned or was due into the trust, and stoically dealing with the aftermath from everyone around me.
I’ve evicted tenants and displaced terminally ill squatting family members — no really, the bulk of my emotional state for the last six weeks has revolved around these subhuman con artists who my father surrounded himself with — and sold not one but two houses that I’ve lived in during my late teens and early twenties. (More on that later.)
I’ve been keeping a stiff upper lip and a squared jaw, relentless in the face of residents’ complaints, angry shouts, and frightened tears as they contemplate a life without my dad taking care of them. (I can relate.) I’ve remained immune to the public berating and shaming from ill-informed neighbors, who have the unmitigated gall to think that they understand better than me what my dad would’ve wanted.
One neighbor actually told me that my father would be rolling in his grave if he knew what I was doing. My hands trembled, but my voice was steady, correcting her that Dad had told me to my face that he wanted me to do these things, and then he’d put it in writing in his will, and signed it.
I didn’t tell her that he had confessed that he was so relieved to know that I would take care of everything, because she didn’t need to know that, and it wouldn’t have mattered to her anyway. I was just a faceless villain in her story. Never mind that the story was about my father, while he was just her neighbor for awhile.
How, you might ask, did I not cry in the face of this? How have I not wept openly at the indignity of being the public bad guy, the cartoon villain, the Benny in everyone’s personal interpretation of Rent?
I’ll tell you why: because Benny was the goddamned hero of the story. He did what needed to be done, to take care of everyone who wouldn’t or couldn’t take care of themselves, even when they loathed him for it. Because there was a job to be done, and someone needed to do it. So Benny squared his shoulders, took a deep breath, and got shit done.
That’s me. That’s my burden to bear. There’s shit to be done, and my father’s dying wish was that I get it done. Even when he lost the ability to speak in his dying days, I reassured him that I would stay in Florida until he was gone, and that I would make sure that everything got done. And the last real conversation that I had with my father ended with him, unable to speak aloud, but listening and understanding, and miming wiping the imaginary sweat off his forehead in a gesture of relief.
Why am I not grieving? It’s because I can’t. I can’t think about my own feelings. I can’t dwell on my loss. I can’t focus on the idea of a life in which I can’t pick up the phone and call my dad, or come to town for beer and nachos, or sit on the couch and quietly watch television together.
I can’t do these things, because even though he’s gone, my dad still needs me right now. It may cost me my time, it may cost me my job, it may even cost me my ability to grieve the death of my father, but damn it, my dad needs me.
He never once failed to be there when I really needed him. Well, he needs me now. He needs me now more than I ever needed him.
And I’ll grieve when the goddamned job is done.