Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Pulling Joy out of the Lost and Found

I lost my father, Bob Berwick, to a sudden heart attack, thirteen years and one month ago. I'm not going to lie, I still miss him almost every day. But something has shifted in me, that I've only noticed in this last month, and I wanted to talk about it a little.

You see, every year since he died, May 3 has been a hard day for me. That's the day he passed, and also the day his father died, several years before him. Some years I consciously remember as it approaches, and feel sad. Other years, I don't even know what's making me so moody, blue, irritable, unsettled, quick to cry, etc., until I look at a calendar and realize what day is coming.

This year I didn't even remember that the 13th anniversary had been marked until two days afterward. And I wondered if I should feel a little guilty, but I knew better as soon as I had the thought, so I just... said a little grateful prayer, and felt happy to have let it go. I felt at peace. For the first year, I remembered to celebrate his birthday, and let his date of death go by without a thought. And that felt completely right.

Part of it is probably that I spent that day hard at work with friends. May 3 this year found me in the Sherry kitchen, chopping vegetables, peeling shrimp, mixing, stirring, and otherwise helping prepare in advance a bounty of wonderful food to feed the musicians of the Birdfoot Festival, due in town later in May. I got to spend that day with Tom and Tracey Sherry and Tanya Battye, amazing, wonderful, and delightfully fun people to talk with and dance with and cook with. It was a busy and an upbeat day, and I didn't once remember to grieve amid the cheerful and aromatic bustle.

Part of it is probably the medication I'm on. I marvel to look back and see how much depression was keeping me down. I was doing all right. I was coping. I was making it through just fine. But I was crying every day with no real reason, and when I HAD a reason, it was just unbearable. Living, laughing, being myself... it was SO HARD. It's ridiculous how effortless it feels to be positive now, now that everything in my body isn't weighing my soul down with chemical sadness. It's not that I think of Dad less these days. But finally, FINALLY, I can think of him with more love than pain.

For a long time, if my father appeared in my dreams, I became intensely anxious. Even asleep, I knew that this time with him was tragically limited, and I felt like I had to make him see that we didn't have long, and that I must must MUST tell him I loved him. And somehow I never could. Either I couldn't reach him, or I couldn't make him understand, and the waking from every one of those dreams was to lose him painfully all over again.

In the last month, though, I've noticed that Daddy has been in my dreams a lot, but something in my mind is... just letting him be Daddy. He's there, in the background, a solid, warm, comforting presence, leaving me and everyone else to do our thing while he watches football, lying on his stomach in the den, or sitting in his LazyBoy, smoking a cigarette, glasses down his nose, reading a Tom Clancy book.

I dreamed the other day that he had to work late, so Mom, Brooke, and I were going to Momo's together for Easter, and we'd see him there Saturday night. He'd be in time for mass Sunday morning. He pulled into Momo's yard driving a dark green truck, hauling a trailer. I saw the truck through the sliding door in the TV room, and ran out to greet him. Not because I had to make this tiny sliver of time with him count for as much as I could, but because he was my father, and I loved him and was happy to see him.

And this time I made it to him. And I hugged him and rested in his arms. And I didn't feel anxious. And I didn't feel sad. I felt only an uncomplicated happiness, the same way I did when he was alive and I thought he'd always be there.  Because in some way, I know he always will. If I ever really need him, he will be in my dreams. And whatever happens to us after we die, I feel like nothing in this universe can be real and true if it isn't real and true that he will be there, waiting for me.

I'm crying now, of course. Because I'll never stop wishing I had him here on earth with me for real. I wish that he were here to read my book and tell me what he thinks.  He'd be a tough critic, I know. But I also know that, while part of that would be him pushing me as always to be exactly as amazing as he believes I can be, at least half of it would just be him trying not to be overwhelmed with pride in me. I have the courage to do the things I do because of him. And at last that realization brings me nothing but joy.