Letters to Myself: Dear Dad,
I woke up too early this morning, at 5:30, and couldn’t go back to sleep, sad thoughts flooded my mind again and I couldn’t block it out just lying there trying to sleep, so I went upstairs to make a tea, leaving Colin to sleep. I see mom stayed up last night and cleaned the kitchen. I guess the pain wouldn’t let her sleep. That, or her fastidious cleaning obsession kept her up. I’m going to guess the former.
She put out a candle on the dining room table with a photo of the whole family with you, from Dan’s wedding. She later told me through tears that she didn’t want a photo of only you, because you shouldn’t be alone, you should be around those who loved you. I know what she really means.
It’s a rainy, grey morning. Pretty on point for our feelings today, “couldn’t be nicer weather, now could it?” as mom would say. When I went back down the stairs, I saw your desk lamp on in your den. Mom wanted to keep it on last night, like it always was, with you there at your computer, late into the crazy hours of the night. Didn’t feel right to leave it dark.
I wondered to myself how many times you had been at that desk at this hour, the dusky morning light breaking the night’s darkness, you finally deciding to call it quits for the day. I looked out at the rolling grassy hills of our back yard through the windows, and I imagined you going for a walk down to the shed to clear your head after a long night, in the crisp dewy air. I know how much you love this forest oasis, how much you love to take walks, and your contemplative moments of solitude.
I decided I will go for that walk. For you.
I grab a robe and in my pajamas, I take my tea and exit out the back door, not before passing your row of shoes by the window. Mom cried when she saw those last night too. Everything that reminds her of you makes her cry, and when she cries, I cry too. I think our tears ducts are connected somehow. Nothing is suitable for the rain except a big oversized pair of your wellingtons, so I slip them on, and head out into the drizzle.
When other people cry now, and I can see their pain, I tend to get overwhelmed and cry too. You know how much of a cry baby I always was. “Why are you crying now?”, you would ask during our serious talks, and often my reply was “I don’t know, I cry at everything, it’s just how I work.” But being triggered by other’s tears is different from crying alone. Then, in the beautiful greenery surrounding me, thinking of you enjoying this same walk, I finally had a real cry for myself.
When I got to the shed, there was a beautiful branch with the leaves that have the silver backs, I remember these from my childhood growing up here. I don’t know what they’re called, but I think you’d like them. I noticed the poison ivy is already sprouting in the clearing. I think to myself that you’d like to get down here and mow it soon before it gets overgrown. I realize you won’t be here to do it anymore, and suddenly lament my inexperience with the lawn mower.
Yesterday was the last day of your life, the last morning you had, and the last time you saw mom. Today was the first day of the rest of our lives without you. Today is Day 1.
Yesterday was still too shocking to really process, today we have to come to terms of a life beyond you. We woke up and sadly, it wasn’t all a bad dream.
Mom’s having a really hard time, I’ve never seen her like this. She’s so hard on herself. She blames herself for not doing more to help you; she feels so much weight on her shoulders from having to deal with all the changes to her life, even though we tell her we will help with it all; she won’t let a slight mess in the house go even as every visitor tells her that she needn’t worry about such meaningless things. You know her, she is a proud woman, and the both of you are much too pragmatic to let a whole day go to waste over sadness. She keeps saying in frustration, “I can hear him saying ‘Woman, get real!’”. But this is as real as it gets. Sometimes pragmatism must go to the wind in favour of letting the emotions take over and work themselves out. I know you would understand.
Today, she managed to have little moments of light hearted distractions. I watch her tell a short anecdote with her usual chipper tone, her usual funny quips, and I know she’s still here; underneath the thick coating of sadness, she still shines like the gem that she is. She will never be the same, but in time, with some new routines, she will win out over the sadness; at least for most of the time. I’ve never known a stronger person than mom – not even you Dad, I’ve got to admit. She has been through so many hardships in life, she so so so doesn’t deserve yet another, but she has found the strength to go on every time. It’s hard for her to find the strength now, but I know we both believe in her, we know she can do this.
I wish you were here to make her feel better, I can only do so much. I can never fill the you-shaped hole in her heart, I can never hug her the way you did, I cannot be her other half when I have my own other half. I can only do my best to make sure she knows she is not alone in this, that I will always love her, and that time will help this pain.
We went to the funeral home today to sort out the arrangements. You would have hated coming along, haha. I could imagine you impatiently sitting around, putting up with the process, all the formality, the paperwork, the money, idly looking off into the distance as you do, retreated into your mind palace, to think of more important worldly problems than your own funeral. What a silly thing to waste effort on, you would think. I’m inclined to agree with you, you were never one for formalities, but as I’ve learned in my few years, events like these and weddings, aren’t truly for you, they’re really for other people.
Since you’re not here and you didn’t express specific wishes for the occasion, we had to figure it out amongst ourselves. We managed some great teamwork, and between transatlantic skyping, some heart to heart honesty, and a bit of compromise, I hope everyone gets something out of it that brings them peace. I hope you wouldn’t mind it too, if you knew what we chose. I know you would want others to be happy.
I won’t go into the boring details, but when we were picking a casket (spoilers: there’s a casket for you), there was one in all the room that stood out to me. This rustic wooden one, with roughly hewn wood, the saw marks and the grain tangible on the surface, in a dark stain, with a simple white canvas lining. While its shape was nice and normal, the atmosphere it gave off in all its roughness was like an old workbench, well worn out of necessity and not just for show, like a dining table in a peasant’s home.
It reminded me of Josenii, and the stories you told of growing up on a mountain village. I realize I have no idea how to spell that name, I’ve only ever heard it spoken, but I gave it my best Romanian guess. I will miss your stories of your life so much, one of my greatest regrets is not recording you telling them. I will try my best to remember them for when I tell my kids about Grandpa Leca and his crazy life, of which I am so honoured to have been a part of.
In any case, I liked the Josenii casket, but it wasn’t necessarily for the occasion, so we went with a nice, classy, smoother wood version. We decided you should wear your bow tie, the black and red one from Dan’s wedding, because it is so utterly dapper and so very you. A classy bow tie on a classy man calls for a classy casket.
We’re going to take a drive and pick the cemetery this week. There’s a cute little one out near the house we think you’d like. I will visit you there but I’ll also keep you close by (another spoiler: we went with cremation). I hope you don’t mind, but I’d like a bit of dust to have with me wherever I may go in life. You travelled a lot of the world in your life, I don’t see why you should be stuck in only one spot now. I would be too sad to move away one day and not have a place nearby to go and be with you for a bit.
You always encouraged me to write more, so I felt like today was a good day to write this all to you, because it’s never too late to start, and in some ways, you don’t need to be here to read it; I hope through the miracle of the wondrous universe, in all its infinite mystery, that you might somehow hear my heart and mind now. I know that’s wishy washy crap and you would immediately challenge me on my beliefs of non-beliefs with all this spiritual stuff, but hey, if we don’t challenge each other, then we’re not being our normal selves. I will forever challenge myself thanks to you. But thank you’s are for another time. For now, I just wanted to let you know what we’re up to.
For dinner, Mom taught me how to make meatball soup, one of your faves. Need some hearty sustinence through all this turmoil. Mom doesn’t feel like eating much, but I’ll keep encouraging her. I know she still enjoys the food a little, even if she can’t enjoy it with you. In time, she will learn to enjoy things for herself. She lived a life of bringing you happiness, now she will have to learn how to bring herself happiness.
After dinner, we watched some Netflix on the couches, first time we’ve sat in there since you left. I know the distraction will help her cope a bit. She fell asleep on the couch just like you always did; I think tonight she might get more sleep, if for nothing else than sheer exhaustion. I hope every night is easier than the last. These weeks and months will be long and hard. I will hold down the fort while we await everyone to arrive from the far away places – Diana & Ed, Zoli, your mother.
Everyone is dealing with it in their own way, but we’re all trying to be strong together, and to be there for each other and for mom. The cats don’t notice you’re gone yet, silly creatures aren’t smart enough for that. Maybe eventually they might wonder where the big man with the rake went.
It’s late now, and Day 1 is over. Time for day 2. Then 3. And every other after that. Baby steps. I don’t know which tense to use anymore when writing; you are stuck between tenses for me, between our past and our future, but not in our present. But at the same time, only in my present, as we all congregate in the here and the now to celebrate the man that you were…the man that you are.
I won’t write about our struggle every day, today was just one of the freshest pains, and I wanted to share it with you. I’m sorry I didn’t share more of the everyday with you, about my life when we were apart, about the everyday banalities that make a life, a life you were and will forever be a huge part of, even if our relationship was anything but conventional.
I wish I’d said hi to you every time I talked to mom, I wish I’d told you how much you meant to me. I hope you already know.
After knowing you were gone, I wish I’d said goodbye, but I realize now I’ll never really say goodbye;
Our conversation will never end, and while for the better part of our 25 years together you did most of the talking, I guess it’s my turn to do the talking, so you better get great at listening. You’ve got all the time in the world, haven’t you ;)
Your desk light is on, but I can’t come give you a hug. But it’s only goodnight for now, not goodbye. I love you Dad, sweet dreams ❤️