My new friend Toni sees dead people. She has since she was little. Toni was 6 years old when her mother died, and was the only person smiling at the funeral because she could see her mom right there, standing next to the casket, seemingly just fine.
Toni and I both performed at Untold Stories, a production at the Florida Theater last week. Toni told of losing her sister to colon cancer, a loss so traumatic she suddenly lost all of her spiritual connections. Her heavenly sister finally spoke to her through a cranky old lady at McDonald’s. It’s an amazing story. (She parlayed her love for her sister into a business, True Joy Helping, focused on helping people in need.)
Toni and I shared a snack before the event.
“I’m jealous of you,” I told her. “I miss my dad so much. My sister dreams about him all the time, but I never do. I don’t understand why he won’t visit me in my dreams.”
I’ve been writing a lot about my father recently, which has made me feel his absence more acutely. I’m glad he’s not around to see how I’ve struggled the past two years – but I also know how comforting he would have been. He would have called me every other day to tell me to take a hot bath and get a good night’s sleep. I’d have tearful voicemails of him telling me how much he loved me and my kids. He’d constantly tell me to go out and have a nice dinner “on him.”
I realize now how much I depended on his voice of authority. When Dad told me everything would be all right, I believed him. It seemed likely rather than just possible.
Because I’m a recovering Catholic, my confidence in the afterlife has been shaky at best. But then I meet someone like Toni and I recall the true meaning of faith, which of course eschews pesky details like proof. Toni knows her sister is with her and is present in her life.
Toni listened patiently as I talked about my dad. “Have you asked him?” she finally said. “Have you asked him to visit you?” No, I replied.
“Well,” I said, “I guess I’m mad at him.” We both burst out laughing. But I realized the truth of my words as they came out of my mouth. I’ve been angry at Dad for not being here for me during the hardest time of my life. I need him right now. Where is he?
Toni advised me to talk to Dad, and I started thinking of ways to do that – maybe meditating? Maybe not.
One day, I watched a Hallmark movie which got me good and emotional, and then I sat on the sofa and cried and asked me father to forgive me for being mad at him and begged him to visit me. I looked around at the stuff in my house. One of the weird mementos I have is the taxidermied bill from one of the many blue marlin my father caught. It’s a long blue swordlike bill sitting on a plaque recognizing Dad as the winner of some fishing tournament. Above it hangs a watercolor print of a great blue heron, and the art is encased in a frame made of sinker cypress wood my father picked out himself. On a shelf sit some gold-plated pelican figurines he bought me. It’s weirdly comforting to have things my father once touched, to be able to put my hands on a place where his once rested.
On a recent morning I was sitting up in bed writing in my journal about how Dad doesn’t visit me, and at that very moment I heard the annoying buzz of a mosquito. Mosquitos in my bedroom have been an ongoing problem; they bite me in my sleep and I can never seem to find them. Wouldn’t it be just like Dad, I thought, to be embodied by that mosquito, teasing me and stinging me mercilessly until I got mad enough to cry. He did that all the time in real life – he loved to tease, and usually didn’t know when to quit. Often, he wouldn’t stop until my mother stepped in or the subject of his teasing started to cry. I was frequently the subject of his teasing. I cried a lot.
Anyway, I told my sister about me thinking Dad was visiting me in the form of an irritating mosquito, and she agreed it would be characteristic of him. But she doubted it was him.
I’ve told you before: Grief does whatever the fuck it wants. It’s not at all atypical that my griefs have collided – my broken marriage against the loss of my father – and exploded into an emotional fireball.
Dad used to wander around humming tunelessly sometimes, particularly when he was busy – or when he was driving, if a song came on the radio and he didn’t know the words. He also had a habit of waking up in the middle of the night and making himself something to eat. He would stand in front of the kitchen window and stare out into the darkness as he ate.
And, well, I’ve started humming. In the car. When I’m trying to figure something out. As I’m carrying stuff. Also – I frequently wake up in the middle of the night to graze. Usually I just grab a handful of cereal. But recently I’ve been making a half of a peanut butter sandwich, and I stand staring out the window as I eat it. I haven’t picked up his less endearing habits – scratching his ear with the car key, for example. But what I’ve begun to realize is that perhaps Dad has taken up residence in my very being. Maybe I’ve so efficiently absorbed him into my sensibilities that he doesn’t need to visit me – he simply has become a part of me.
I do feel as though I’m more like him every day. In addition to his weird characteristics, I think I inherited his generosity of spirit, his love of laughter, his loyalty to family. Well, maybe I didn’t inherit those qualities so much as learn them from both him and my mother.
What’s important is this: perhaps Dad has been visiting me all along by helping me shape this new life of mine.
I wish I could see him and talk to him. But I think maybe having him in my head is just as good.