It will be okay. I know this because if you wait long enough, the sting of initial grief passes, eases, ebbs. I’ve buried my Mom and daughter, so burying my Dad is not the shock it could have been had this been my first time at the sadness rodeo. But it still sucks.
Today really sucked.
In a veil of light rain, I drove to my childhood hometown to finish some of the busywork of death — pick up my Dad’s death certificates at the funeral home and arrange for his headstone at the cemetery.
I haven’t lived in the south suburbs since 1992, moving from my parent’s home, my childhood home, to Chicago’s north side as a young woman of 22. That was over half my life ago. The area is simultaneously foreign and familiar. It feels odd to be back there, odd to bury my Dad there, like I’m leaving him without a ride home.
He moved to the South Loop neighborhood after my Mom died ten years ago. Like me, he, too, grew away from his south side roots, transplants both of us. Out of the blue he bought a condo last spring a bit further north. In typical Dad fashion, his decision was not up for discussion. It was his decision to make and he was not one to listen to the concerns of his children.
The view was spectacular — skyscrapers and CTA tracks. I got why he liked it so much. I wish he had had more time there. He did, too. When I looked for a new home for him in February, I thought he might like that the two windows in his assisted living unit overlooked a grassy area with a lot of trees. He hated it, preferring his urban landscape to anything nature offered.
You do the best you can when your choices are limited. I tried and my Dad tried. We both did the best we could in the face of his changing health. “Don’t worry about a thing, nothing will turn out all right,” was one of my Dad’s longstanding mantras. Wiser and more cynical words have never been spoken.
His point was that spending any amount of time or energy worrying was a waste of both of those precious resources. He always said that his mother taught him not to worry, that worrying never changed anything, so why engage in it? It seemed so simple when he said it.
When he was diagnosed with lung cancer last year, I knew he was worried. He didn’t talk about it too much and he preferred to keep the diagnosis private. Need to know basis, you know? I felt his relief after going through the radiation treatment. His radiation oncologist was the same doctor who treated my Mom and daughter. Talk about freakishly small worlds — oncology, even in a big city like Chicago, can be fairly incestuous.
He let me go to one of his appointments with her last year. Just one. My Dad was very independent in most every way. After his treatment ended, Dr. Marymount said to my Dad, “I think we got it. Lung cancer is the least of your worries.” She sent him on his way with an order for follow-up scans in three months. His cancer was caught early, stage 1. None of us were really worried. Turns out, we should have been.
Lung cancer is what is listed on his death certificate under “cause of death.” Lung cancer. Of course. Freaking cancer. Of course.
My Dad never made it to a follow-up appointment or scans. He was too busy with other medical crises that on the surface had absolutely no connection to lungs or cancer. I remember in January pushing, gently, for repeat scans. My Dad was already hospitalized. It seemed like a task that should be easy to accomplish. Ha — in Hospitalville, “common sense is non-sense,” another one of my Dad’s favorite mantras. Perhaps I should have pushed more assertively. Perhaps it wouldn’t have made a bit of difference.
We’re all gonna die someday. April 29, 2015 was my Dad’s day to die. Lung cancer is what got him in the end. My personal belief is that he died before May 1 to spare his estate the cost of another six grand of assisted living expenses and another six hundred dollar insurance premium. He knew. I am convinced of that. He knew.
I miss him. His death has brought me back to my Mom’s death ten years ago. They are together again now, side by side, just like in the full sized bed they shared since their 1958 marriage.
I miss them both. It feels a bit like a Mack truck ran over me today, so I don’t even know why I’m sitting up at 8:45 at night typing these words, other than I need to. Writing is part of the way I move through grief. Which takes me back to the first sentence of this post, “It will be okay.” It will. It’s not okay right now. Right now not much of anything feels okay. But it will be okay again. I hope.