four years ago today

January 18, 2013

My dad died. His dog, Ben, died with him. January 18th, 2009. It was a house fire. Probably smoke inhalation. No working smoke detectors in his house. There wasn’t much working in his house, except electricity, and it was likely a frayed lamp cord that started the fire. The best guess is the smoke eventually woke him up and he tried to find his phone to call 911 or tried to get down on the floor. The firefighters discovered him kneeling against his bed with his head on the mattress and his phone on the floor near his side table. You can easily imagine that he was panicking and knocked the phone to the floor and then was consumed by the smoke, which was so thick that the firefighters had to use a special infrared light to find his body. The whole thing sucked and so did everything that came after it except spending time with my family, most especially my sister, and getting to finally meet and become friends with my dad’s best friends, most especially his best friend, Joe.

I have no idea about the long arc of grief, specifically grief for someone with whom I had complicated relationship, at best, estranged, at worst. I suppose I could google “arc of grief.” It doesn’t really matter. Its still the case that I will be writing about something unrelated to my dad and and the next thing I know I’ll find myself writing him anyway. And it’s still true that when I’m  getting to know someone I want to be close to, I end up talking about my dad and my dad dying. This year I got slightly panicked that I had forgotten the date of his death. And I had to go back and look it up here on my blog. The forgetting part, not just of his death, but of him, is strange and unsettling. I’ve always had to kind of remind myself that he existed and that he was actually my dad, and that’s even more so true since he died. I think I finally realize why my Grandmother and Mom and uncles talk so much about my Grandfather — so they won’t forget him.

I’ve still not read Billy Budd. But it continues to sit in a pile of books on my bedside table. I did remove his dog tag from my key chain. It was loud and I think I wanted to take a break from trying to be close to the experience that impacted my dad’s life more than anything else. The thing I’ve noticed this year is that sometimes it feels weird to say I loved or love my dad, because loving him became such an exercise in abstraction, so separate from concrete expressions of love, like birthday phone calls or ever hanging out at his house or going with him to his favorite festival. But George Saunders said “Grief is, in a sense, the bill that comes due for love.” (his eulogy for David Foster Wallace). So by that measure I clearly did, love him that is.

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