A few days ago, I forced myself to do something which I rather dislike. Not because the task was unpleasant, which it was in the sense that all things associated with death are, but because I was terrified of that look I would see in my father’s eyes. That look of mortality, of fleeting time, of disbelief, of instant heartache. For a friend of my dad’s had passed away quite unexpectedly and being the good daughter that I am, I bought a bottle of whiskey and drove over the mountain pass to commiserate at his house.
Once I arrived there however, my solidarity faltered as I remembered that summer day, not too many years ago, when I had spontaneously driven over that same mountain pass and up my Dad’s gravel driveway into a memory of sadness and shame. As I pulled up to a stop & jumped carelessly out of my car as only a young girl can do, my Dad lurched forward out of his office and onto the porch in a way which immediately told me something was wrong. At first I thought he was in the throes of a heart attack but as he choked out the words while I rushed towards him, I understood that it was my Uncle Brian who he was talking about, not himself. And in that moment I experienced my first sense of shame, because I was grateful it wasn’t him. Whether it was right or wrong, that emotion was the first thing I remember about my Uncle Brian’s death. As a world wholly new and painfully sharp sprang up around us that day, that day of sudden and young death, my first thoughts were still, at least it wasn’t you Dad. Thank God, it wasn’t you.
And that is why it took me a few hours after driving that mountain pass to finally muster up the courage to go and find my dad. I stood there, alone, with the bottle of whiskey tucked under my arm, and braced myself. I knew that same look was coming and that once again, I would feel that guilty sense of gratitude that it wasn’t him. For the thought of a world without my Dad breaks my heart, it’s something that I fear I simply could not bear. So when I look my father in the eyes, his grief makes me sad, sad because his friend was a good man and the world is a little less bright without him, sad because his own mortality is something I cannot stop. Yet he is still here, we still have time, and for that, I am unashamedly grateful.