A Grief Remembered
When my dad died of cancer, I was nine. Although many years have passed since this event, I have periodically tried to find anything that would give me insight into how other people coped with a similar event, how it impacted others. Are there other kids like me who experienced some of the things I experienced, felt as I felt? I don't know, but recorded is just one memory I have of this time, written as true to my mentality as it was then. And morbidity aside, I have found the event recorded to be quite humorous.
Bouncing on top of the springy, wet grass, I looked a few rows down from where I stood to see a fresh new plot, the dirt from the just-buried casket still fresh. Someone had just died. Again. In my mind, I remember the way the cemetery once looked, without the rows being steadily filled in across from where my dad now remained. Annoying, really. I didn’t like that so many people could die so fast. The world should stop for a moment, acknowledge that my dad was the one who died. Not these other people. My mom’s weeping catches my ears and I turn, wondering if she’ll ever stop crying. Ever since my dad was diagnosed with cancer many months ago, she hasn’t stopped. Maybe she never will. But I don’t cry much and sometimes I feel guilty about this. Maybe I didn’t really love my dad.
Jumping up and down some more, I walk away from where my mom stands, trying to communicate with the husband who will never answer back. Once, I used to wonder if my mom ever did cry. Now, I know. On a whim, I decide to run, leaving her behind with her tears. The tombstones rush past me and the chill lessons. Dressing myself doesn’t make sense most days. On cold days, I accidentally dress for warm weather. Like this day. But at least I haven’t mixed up two different shoes or worn a piece of clothing inside out or put on pants with holes in them. Clothing is such a burden and not one I notice until some classmate points out my faux pas or a friend laughs at my mistake.
Many flowers lie scattered across the grass. On a whim, I think that I’ll gather flowers for my dad. Pleased with this idea, I skip across the grass, picking up flowers that had been tossed out of other gravestones by the chilly winter wind. Had he really only died more than a year ago? I tried to remember him alive, the color of his eyes, the way it felt to sit on his lap at church, the sound of his rich laughter. A journal – one of several – flashes into my mind. I know I should start writing down everything I can remember. I should write down every moment to prepare for the time when memory fades and I am left fatherless. The burden overwhelms me for a moment. I still have a mountain of homework to do and not much focus for that.
The bright assortment of flowers fills my hand now. When I look down, a keen sense of uncertainty fills me. Is it wrong to take the flowers that were once in other tombstones, intended for other loved ones? The thought makes me pause and I think, trying to figure out the right answer. It wasn’t like taking flowers left on the ground was wrong. They weren’t in their place anymore. Still, I’m not sure. No one ever talks about the right and wrong etiquette of cemeteries when you’re just a kid. Most kids hold their breath when going past cemeteries. Cemeteries for me was where I could look at old, elaborate tombstones, run up beneath the trees, or just sit and try to talk to my dad. At least he can’t yell at me anymore for not doing my homework.
The loveliness of the assortment wins out and I decide that I will make my dad proud of me by adding to the flowers he already has. Used to be that I would make him all kinds of drawings. He would take those drawings into work and hang them up somewhere, I imagine. He would be proud of me during those times, I think. But I couldn’t make him drawings. Not anymore. No place exists for him to hang them. But I can make him proud of me by giving him flowers.
Racing back, I announce to my mom my new findings. Brilliant flowers. For dad. Aren’t they pretty? This comes out in an excited rush. Still just daddy’s girl, even if he is gone.
She hesitates, clearly uncertain. But weary from her own grief, she relents, and I add the dubious flowers to his little vase of flowers by his tombstone. If only I could shake off the unsettling feeling I felt! Didn’t this feeling of wrong know I wanted to make my dad happy? Didn’t it know that the flowers weren’t a part of anything?
A week or two passed before we returned. Running again to my dad, this time more warmly dressed, I notice the flower display at once, stripped of all flowers save the ones mom gave to him. Certain uncertainty fills me. Dad didn’t like the flowers. Maybe he wanted different kinds of flowers?
This time, I was more selective in choosing the kinds of flowers. Again, I was disappointed upon my return that the flowers I picked out for him had vanished. Finally, I stopped picking out the flowers left on the ground, convinced that he was trying to teach me about respect yet again. But then, that was my dad, always looking out for me, trying to teach me his brand of morality.
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