There is another post about how my dad died. This one covers the first week afterwards. I was twelve. Grieving for Emilee has allowed me to revisit and see some things about my dad’s death that I never realized before, and enabled me to understand feelings that I never completely understood. This has helped me work on some grief issues and healing that I was not able to do at age twelve.
There is a line from the movie, “I Never Sang For My Father”, “Death ends a life. But it does not end a relationship.” That movie was a heartbreaker, and left issues unresolved between father and son. For me, that line has a more positive meaning. That the person is still alive in me.
The First Week
I did not believe it. Not yet. I was not sure if I were dreaming or not and if I were, I didn’t know when I would wake up.
In the meantime, two of my dad’s coworkers drove to my brother’s college to inform him. I wondered what that was like for him. “Hi Alan, we are sorry to tell you….” Maybe they just should have hit him hard in the gut with a two by four.
The car finally pulled into the driveway. I wanted to run outside and hug him, but I held back and waited. When he came in the house, I wanted to hug him, but he went to mom, and he was absorbed in his own moment with her.
He had lots of tears but he was not sobbing. I wanted to hold him and be held by him, but he just couldn’t be with mom AND with me, and then he HAD to go outside for a walk. I wanted to go WITH him, but he wanted to be alone, at first. Maybe he didn’t want to sob in front of others, I don’t know, he didn’t say much, but his eyes were bloodshot.
I was starting to feel numb, like I couldn’t feel my body, which was a surprise to me. I felt like my body was going to take a walk, and leave my head behind. Mom is in her pain, Alan is in his pain. I don’t think anyone would have noticed if my body had started walking around without my head.
Mom’s youngest sister arrived the next morning. I like my uncle, her husband. He was funny. He told jokes and made funny noises like my dad. He was the only one I was able to run to, to sob in his arms. Someone behind me, I don’t know who, asked why I was crying. Adults can be incredibly stupid.
Like the one who said later that day, “Oh, he doesn’t really understand.”
I felt my blood heating up inside me, verrrrry close to boiling over, and my heart was racing, temples thumping and the top of my head and my forehead beaded up with sweat. I very much wanted to punch him, a distant relative. I wanted to mash his face, and I imagined how good I would feel. NO, I WOULDN’T. Yes, I would. I wanted to mash his head face down into the floor.
I then noticed I had at least two voices inside my head, one said, “It just feels sooooo good THINKING about doing it imagine how good it would feel actually DOING it.” Another voice was saying, “That is NOT very nice, I’m a GOOD boy.”
A third voice chimed in, “Well, he is an asshole… stupid, cruel thing to say. I don’t like him.”
I felt like I was watching everything through a haze, from outside myself. I didn’t know if that was possible. I was still wondering when I was going to wake up from the dream, was it all just a dream?
Sometime in the next few days we went to the funeral home to pick a casket. A tisket, a tasket, a fancy wooden casket. I was still dreaming. What kind of wood? Did it matter? I wanted it nice for the funeral, but wasn’t it all going to fall apart anyway? The thought of being in a box and buried in the ground made me antsy, very fidgety, and sweaty. Damn, it got hot in there fast and I found a place to sit down.
I did not like standing around at the funeral home, greeting all the friends and family as they repeatedly said they were sorry during the viewing hours, the Jewish equivalent of the wake.
Not as sorry as I was. And, not as confused either. One of my voices said, “All you people think he is gone, but I know better. Just you wait and see.”
I started to feel a panic that this was not a dream as the minutes and hours went ticking by. I cried during the service, but I’m not sure why I was crying. I was supposed to cry, right? Everyone else was crying. They would have thought something was wrong with me if I didn’t cry. I was an actor in a play. I should have sung a song. MOON RIVER. HE would have smiled. MY BIGGEST FAN. He absolutely loved when I played guitar and sang. And, I loved that he loved me doing that.
At the cemetery, the Rabbi gave his graveside talk and prayer, we said the Hebrew prayer for mourners, KADDISH, which I didn’t have memorized YET and used the little booklet they gave out at the cemetery. After that each person took a turn throwing a shovel-full of dirt onto the casket which had already been lowered into the grave.
When it was my turn, somewhere in my head I heard, “WE got this,” and one loud voice I heard over all the others, “I can do this, I don’t need anyone of you to throw the dirt on him, I will do this MYSELF.”
After about the tenth shovel-full, Alan touched my back gently, and said SOFTLY, “NEAL,” and I was reluctant to give up the shovel but I let go as he took it out of my hands. I could have done more without those dress clothes on.
We sat Shiva in our house. We sat on hard chairs for seven days after the funeral. The mirrors were covered with sheets so we couldn’t see ourselves. We didn’t go anywhere, we stayed put and let the world come to us.
Five in the morning I got up to say Kaddish with Alan and a friend of my father’s, and I was getting quieter and quieter.
I am not that religious. Neither was dad. He went to services in the Synagogue on the Holy Days. Mom was the observant one. A Conservative Jew. Dad was more Reform. Then one of my voices said, “I am not being a GOOD SON or a GOOD JEW,” so I told that voice, “Hey, BACK OFF.” It quieted a little.
The evening service was held at our house that first week. I started wondering if my Hebrew education prepared me for this. I know I didn’t prepare so well. I played hookie some days. Who wanted to go MORE SCHOOL after a regular day in public school?
I heard one of my voices, “I’M A BAD JEW.” I’m sorry. But, THEY did not prepare me for this.
I did not EVEN KNOW that KADDISH was supposed to be said at least once a day after the first week, for an entire year in our Synagogue, after someone dies. Reform is only a few months. Not everyone does this. I was sure mom would go, GUILT would force me to go with her. Mom was so used to using GUILT she didn’t even know she was using it. Or did she?
Week one was staying in the house. People constantly from the afternoon till evening. There was abundant food. People came to talk, remember, and eat…and eat.
Some of my classmates visited. Awkward. What were we supposed to talk about? I didn’t really know them, except for one or two.
My hot neighbor who was in my grade came by and I got a hug from her, which might have sparked enough fantasies for a whole year, and would have been longer if I liked her.
I wanted to go run a cross country mile or two or three. I had this pent-up energy, and it was circulating in my muscles making my whole body cranky and twitchy. The short walk at the end of that week that signaled the end of Shiva, was not enough.
I was getting more and more antsy and wanted to run that three miles, or punch something really hard (I found out punching my bed helped sometimes and I didn’t hurt my hand), OR… I wanted to forget about all that stuff and play doctor with my neighbor for a long, long time.
I went for a long run and let the wind dry the tears as I ran. I started to hear the voice that said, softly at first, “I MAY NOT BE DREAMING.”