(A Continuation of the post-On the Road with My Dad….)
I guess the reality is we don’t really know most of the time who or what we’ll be dealing with. From my experiences in the last 36 years, I’ve found it is difficult to predict how exactly the events in my life will affect me immediately or years down the line. There is no way to know how each day will play out, what my future truly holds, or when it will all end. Sometimes change is abrupt and unpredictable, and other times our actions can mold our future in a foreseeable way. Unfortunately, with life, it is a waiting process, a series of events happening moment by moment, and sometimes the only assurance that we have is our mindset and perspective when dealing with whatever unfolds.
No one knew enough to prepare me for how my dad’s death would affect me later in life. I have encountered, time and again, that when I bring my father up in general conversations with people who never knew him, they usually want to change the subject. Very rarely does anyone ask me to expound on who he was or initiate conversation about him. It always hurts and upsets me when people wait for me to finish my brief comments, just so they can change the subject. Yet, I usually just accept it.
The reality is that my father is someone I will never forget and continue to want to talk about, as if he were living. The same way others talk about people in their lives they’re close to, admire, and are proud to know. I used to think it was because people were afraid I was going to cry, but would this be the case 20 years later? From my experiences and observations, older people can talk about their past and the people they have had relationships with over the years that are no longer with them, and it is encouraged and people listen intently. Yet when a child, teenager, or young adult wants to talk about their deceased relative, especially a parent, people feel uncomfortable, say sorry, and wait to interject a new topic as soon as possible. Only rarely does someone encourage reflection. When a person does, they deserve gratitude because it is a rare occurrence.
Time and again I have brought up my father in conversations when I feel it correlates with something being discussed. Most of the time people either passively ignore my reference to him by brushing it off or rarely even acknowledge what I am saying. Without thinking to consider the nostalgia of my words; hence, inadvertently, giving the impression that since the my father is gone, he isn’t worth talking about anymore. Not considering this isn’t just anyone to me, like an old buddy or someone I once knew in high school, but someone who helped influence and mold who I am. The worst consequence of losing someone is the unanticipated pressure from others to “let them go.” Yet, the memories are all I have, and I yearn to preserve them. Life is about stories and connections. That doesn’t end when someone dies. We want to remember and recognize those that touched us especially when they exemplified compassion, strength, and perseverance. Just as my father did!
Based on the awareness I have gained since my father’s death, I would advise anyone who knows someone who lost a parent, sibling, child or anyone close to them; give them a chance to talk and just listen for a few minutes. Unless that person you consider your friend or relative is not important to you, but I think they are, and for that very reason, they deserve your attention and consideration. Maybe you will learn about someone interesting, someone who is not here physically but who is worth knowing about, like many other people in history.
It may be a little uncomfortable at first, but I think if you allow yourself an open mind and heart you will learn something important about, not only the person who is opening up and sharing the story with you, but about the person they lost and even yourself. A unique opportunity that allows humankind to bond and empathize. It is not just meaningful to let someone talk about the person they lost right after they died, but to continue to support this dialogue throughout the rest of their life; if and when the opportunity arises. Physical life ends when someone dies, but they will forever live on in someone’s heart. To help that heart mend, the memories must be told. This consideration and tenderness for another, is never wasted.