15 April 2006

Easter Every Year Thereafter

My father died at Easter time. There is something horribly crushing about being the only girl in the world mourning a death when everyone around you is celebrating a resurrection. The year of my father's death, I'd spent easter vacation (cause that's what it was called way back then, before it became the more politically-correct and religion-neutral "spring break") with my father. We both knew it was the end. I was 11. He was in his 40s. He couldn't stand, couldn't sit for long either. He tried gamely to eat my creations, and was very subtle about throwing them back up as soon as I'd leave the room. I read him stories. He usually fell asleep. So I'd finish them alone, in whispers, in his darkened room, and watch him breathe, wondering if he'd stop while I was sitting there with him. Some few of my father's friends and relations came by to visit during that week. None of them had any idea how to face a death such as his with dignity and humor, and most of them bungled it in some way. And they had even less an idea how to handle a child in the middle of that death. So mostly, I sat very still, and I listened to them babble, and promised myself I would cut out my own tongue rather than sound like that when I grew up. Only someone desperately selfish uses a dying man's energy to shore up his own grief. One relation, Great Aunt Nina, knew how to handle herself. She at least had the sense to realize that I needed out of that house of death. She took me out to lunch, for a run on the beach, and then she gave me $5, to go buy myself a toy for easter. She took me to a drugstore. I don't remember which one. But they had two whole aisles devoted to easter paraphenalia. The plastic baskets, the polyester bunnies, the polystyrene eggs. Pagan/Christian polyglot in pastel panoply. I bought my father an easter basket. Even at 11, I understood that there would be no resurrection. But I had to try, you know? I remember sitting in the middle of the aisle, making people walk around me, as I stuffed the wicker with clear green fake plastic grass, fuzzy little chicks, a stuffed bunny, and hollow plastic eggs. I remember leaving them hollow. Hollow like me, hollow like my father was becoming. I left the grass in the aisle for some clerk to sweep up, like I was having to sweep up the bits. Ugly, brutal symbolism. Even for 11. Aunt Nina took me back to my father's house. And was surprised when I handed my father his basket. She hadn't seen me put it in the car. We had a little Easter festivity, the three of us. A brief interlude of forced joy. Back in the living room, Nina looked at me. Total control of her voice, despite the tears rolling down her face. "You bought that for him with the money I gave you, didn't you?" "Yeah." She left. Hurriedly. And didn't ever know that I saw her pull over at the end of the block to cry before she tried to drive on. Every year, I challenge myself to go into a drugstore, and walk the aisle of easter paraphenalia. It's still as plastic, as pastel, as it was all those years ago. Some years, I can make it through the store OK. Some years, I sit right down next to the giant inflatable rabbits and sob like a kid, which never fails to irritate or embarass someone, who's just there to do their obligatory easter shopping. It's worse in years, like this one, where Easter falls between his birthday and his death day. I don't know why. It's been even harder this year, since I realized that my older son is the spitting image of my father at the same age, and that only two other people breathing air besides me even care. This year, at the easter egg hunt, when Rowan opened the hollow plastic egg, I cried with joy. It's taken this long, for me to see, that yes, as long as we live, and remember, there is indeed a resurrection.

7 Comments:

At 4/17/2006 11:48:00 AM, Blogger Moira said...

HUGS!!!

 
At 4/17/2006 12:05:00 PM, Anonymous Angela said...

Yes.

And that's all I can say. Because I'm crying.

 
At 4/17/2006 03:43:00 PM, Blogger September said...

I'm right with you. I've lost 2 important people in my life right around Easter... plus my Dad (no one is anyone compared to a Dad). Everyone knows I can't handle Easter lily plants.

 
At 4/17/2006 09:10:00 PM, Anonymous V said...

L, This is an amazing remembrance of your father and of the 11 year old you were then as well, and a revealing glimpse of the nature of grief itself.
I lost a close friend (suddenly to a heart attack at age 42) in July of 2004 and though she's not my dad, all your words make sense to me. How to stay available to her daughter without putting her in the position of comforting me? I don't want to do that to her. But I miss her mom so much every day. Yuck. I love the memories we have, and yet I liked my life so much better before. The whole world was better with her in it.
And this is the part of grief that makes people step over weeping you in the Easter aisle... nobody wants to hear about anyone else's grief. I didn't know how much so until I was swimming in it. It's like there is a neon sign flashing, "It's YOUR problem. Keep it to YOURSELF." Thanks for shining a light on the shadowy places, and sending my most heartfelt hugs. love, V

 
At 4/17/2006 11:46:00 PM, Blogger Rose said...

Many years ago in college, I lost 2 very dear people to a horrible car accident. One I was in love with. I still fondly think of him every Easter.. the time he died. I posted a poem on my BLOG that got me through the rough times.

 
At 4/27/2006 08:33:00 PM, Anonymous Harriet said...

You are a wonderful writer and this is a touching remembrance. How wonderful that Rowan is a living picture of a grandfather he'll never know in person! Hopefully he'll help you focus on the positive memories though never be ashamed or embarrassed to shed the tears.

 
At 5/04/2006 04:42:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have given meaning to all the aisles of pastel, plastic and Easter stuff. It will never look the same to me AGAIN.

 

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