Wednesday, May 22, 2013
By SUSAN LEBEL YOUNG
No one tells you about the empty spaces, the rooms you enter where all his stuff lives on, and his energy lingers, too. But he is gone. No one talks about finding the traces of that man you always loved, except maybe for a few teenage years when you wanted to run away because he was so strict about your stupid midnight curfew and his absurd rules about not driving and drinking. Now you ache for him. You go to his computer corner and you run your fingers over his notebooks, the ripped ones he saved and patched up from his World War II Navy days. You touch their covers and read the yellow post-it notes in his handwriting. Even knowing that none of us escapes death, you never thought you'd lose a loved one. But you have: Your father has died.
REFLECTIONS is a column written by members of Maine's faith-based community. Opinions expressed in the column reflect the author's view and not necessarily that of the newspaper.
No one tells you what it will feel like when you stare at his library of golf books and know he will never look at those shelves again, will never pull out that page and say with a huge smile, "Have you seen the writing of this golf psychologist? You'd like him." You secretly rolled your eyes because he had shown you this passage at least 10 times: "Keep your head where your feet are. Don't be thinking ahead to the next shot." Now you wish you could sit with him, read those words yet again and say, "This is life advice too, Dad: stay here; be present; keep your mind where your body is." Today you wish you could let him know you have as much enthusiasm as he did for how the human mind works. But you can't.
No one speaks about how you will break into tears when you find those things he collected that you thought so quirky -- like the serrated lemon peeler he had to have that day he bought gadgets on sale at Kohl's. No one mentions his bedroom where in 2009 you find a tuxedo he last wore on New Year's Eve 40 years ago, which he refused to give away because it was a bargain in 1969 and he might wear it one day. You never know, he'd say.
Perhaps "you never know" was his greatest spiritual message. Maybe the biggest truth is Mystery, what the Buddhists call "don't know mind." You wish it weren't true what Emerson said: "The years teach much which the days never know." You wish you could've, would've, known then while he was here what only the passing years have taught you. No one tells you how you'll wish for things that can't come to pass; how you will remember that he died a year before his granddaughter, your daughter, brought twin boys into the world. He would have loved them. You don't know how many times you'll wish you could laugh with him as you watch your own grandchildren learn words like "Dadda," and you, a grown woman, miss the man you stopped calling Daddy 50 years ago.
People tell you he's gone to God, he had a good life, how lucky you are that he lived 86 years with a sharp mind and could stay at home until the end. People who mean well assure you it's for the best that he died when he did. He never got sicker or weaker. What a blessing. You nod your head and say, "It's all true." But your heart wants to pick up the phone -- he would use a land line -- and give him a recipe he could whip up with his lemon peeler.
Your friend whose dad died before yours told you she hears her father's voice, giving her advice and asking her questions, "Whoa. Wait a minute. What are you thinking here?" You didn't understand. She said she feels his energy and presence. You never believed her. She said his spirit comes to her in dreams. Really? You wondered. But the years teach what none of us can know in the moment. In time you get better at being available to the unknown and opening to the Mystery. And then the spaces feel less empty.
Susan Lebel Young is a retired psychotherapist, teaches mindfulness, yoga and meditation and is the author of "Lessons from a Golfer: A Daughter's Story of Opening the Heart." She can be reached at email@example.com.