Monday, March 16, 2009

On Fathers, and friends, and the death of fathers, and the death of fathers of friends

As I've discussed before, I lost my father (ok, no, I know where he is, in a veteran's cemetary on Long Island) at a young age, and have few memories of him that are not comic-related. Here are a few.

While trying to teach my adopted sister (I'm adopted as well - I at weeks old, she at the age of five) to pray, my father attempted to show her the Sign of the Cross. She, in an attempt to please him, made as big a cross upon her person as she could, "In the Name of the father" from the top of her head, "and the Son" to the base of her pubic bone, and the "Holy Spirit" positioned at ends of both shoulders. He was trying to get her to dial it down a little, and chose to express this by jamming his hand into his crotch and exclaiming "DOWN HERE is the Son?" Oh, how we laughed.

He didn't care for hair curlers, or at least pretended not to. My mom and aforementioned sister decided to do their hair one evening, and both were done up in curlers when he came home. He looked at my mom, and gave a cartoon scream at the sight of her. Turned to my sister, and gave a cartoon scream at the sight of her. Looked at me, sans curlers, sighed in relief, and hugged me.

I remember my mom trying smoking to have something to do with him while he smoked. I recall that exactly once.

I can't tell you what I had done, but he was chasing me out of the backyard for some grievance, down the short sidewalk beside the garage. (My grievance may well have been leaving the backyard - my father was very protective of me) I don't recall climbing over the shoddy picket fence gate, but I must have, because HE had to. Back in the kitchen, he was getting iodine or some other antisceptic and sting-y material dabbed on a series of deep scrapes and scratches the gate had given him. I don't recall them healing.

I recall him peeing onto a little blue strip of paper, and comparing the resulting color to a small chart he had.

I recall the gurney that took him out of the house.

At the funeral, the comics memories start up again. I discovered that the cover logo of the Richie Rich comic I got to keep me busy was printed in an odd shade of bright red that if I jiggled the cover just a bit under a bright light, it's like the logo left contrails behind it, much like (decades later) the screen of a PSP draws black. Nobody seemed to care.

My dad had diabetes. He was 44 when I died.

I have diabetes. I'm 42. (The name of the blog will get progressively more incorrect, but as anyone who's ever tried to re-name a blog knows, it's better to just leave it go.)

I'm not fatalistic, but it's sobering. It inspires thought.

When I got diabetes, lots of people offered advice and support. Or tried.

"Oh, wow, my brother had diabetes."

"Yeah, what happened?"

"He died. But I'm sure you'll be fine though."

The same happens when people you know die. Things get said that probably sound very consoling in their heads. When my Mom died a few years back, The Wife's favorite teacher, Sister Francesca Thompson, called to offer comfort.

"Oh dear I know what it's like to lose both your parents. You wake up one morning and look in the mirror and think, 'I'm nobody's child.' I know what that feels like."

I was doing pretty well with it until then.

You never know what to do. You try to empathise. You too often end up with statements like "Yeah, I remember when my dog died...", or you compare your leg cramp last summer to their hysterectomy. Their story wins, but you can't resist trying to beat it.

It's harder when you didn't know the person who died, just your friend. You fire off an inoffensive "Well, I'm sure he's in a better place now," only to be told the family are rooting for brimstone enemas and a bodysuit made of male velcro worn inside out, as the deceased's behavior regularly reached Jerry Springeresque proportions.

It's an uncomfortable situation. And that's just YOU having to think about it, imagine what THEY'RE going through having to LISTEN to all of it.

You never know how you're gonna act when it happens to you. After one night of Dad's wake, Mom said good bye to everyone, and stood in front of the funeral home. Five minutes later, she realized she was waiting for Dad to bring the car around.

So anyway, this guy I know, one of his relations died recently, and I thought rather than privately offer my sympathies, I would externalize my feelings, turn it into a story about myself, and let him extract whatever comfort he could from that. Hey, we all deal with grief in different ways.

Nowadays, the eighth stage is usually "capitalization".

In comics, they often announce death three months in advance. This annoys people, and makes them angry at how death is trivialized. Of course, when the publishers keep the deaths a secret, this annoys people because it means they didn't have enough advance notice, so they could buy enough copies to keep up with demand.

Some people rail and rant that their favorite character is gone. Some sit quietly and await their eventual return. Some point fingers at others, saying if it weren't for this thing or that guy, or the other situation, they'd be alive today. And some just move on.

And some take their emotions and post them on the electric-type internet.

1 comment:

  1. This fond, funny, poignant post really moved me. Your reminiscences about your dad reminded me of the months after my own dad died of cancer late in 1994. I thought I'd gotten used to the idea, even if I still found myself occasionally automatically thinking, "Gotta give Dad a call -- oh, um, never mind." Then, one late-spring afternoon in 1995, I was walking in midtown Manhattan, where I worked at the time. I was walking past a Hallmark card shop on my lunch break. I noticed all the signs on the store window reminding potential card-shoppers that Father's Day was on the way. THAT was when it really hit me that Dad was truly gone (not from our hearts, of course).