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Three Years Ago

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My dad at one of his many excursions

Three years ago, I came face to face with death. Again, but this time from close up.

I've seen death before. Looked her right in the eye. When my grandfather died of a heart attack while I was in the next room, working on a school readiness summer booklet. When my best friend was killed in a car crash when we were twenty. When my grandmother finally lost the fight with cancer she's been having for over twenty years.

Three years ago, I met death at Abu Kabir, the place where they take bodies to be identified and autopsied in Israel. We've got the call the day before and literally flew as fast as we could to my mum's side. My brother and sisters were there too. We all went into the small room, where my dad was lying on a table. Cold. We all resisted the urge to shake him awake. Then we split into cars and started the three-hour drive to my parents'—no, my mum's—house.

In the first few days, the pain was physical. Every time I remembered he was gone, it was like a punch. But it got less physical as the days went by, so I thought I was fine at first. And then I realised it was March and I wasn't doing well at all, so I went back to my therapist. It was a bit awkward because six months before that I told her I was all good, but she was gracious about it.

I wrote a lot in the last three years. When, on the plane home, in the middle of the night, I found myself writing the eulogy in my head, I understood very deeply that I needed to write. I had a few more loose ends to tie, but I started taking my writing seriously after that. Both because of my aircraft epiphany but also because clearly, time was short. My dad was 63 years old.

Chuck Wendig has some excellent posts about grief and losing parents and writing. I feel like an amateur next to him, but I'm trying. Today it's hard to write, but I kind of have to. Writing, for me, is a little like sandpaper. It smoothes the jagged edges of the hole in my heart. It doesn't make the hole go away; it doesn't fill the hole. It just makes it a little smoother, a little less painful, a little easier to look at.

And now, I can look at this hole and say: This is where my dad once was, with his crushing hugs, and his too-big hands, and his laughter, and his arguing, and his smell of dust and dirt and my mum's dreadful drier spray that God only knows why she still uses. And I can say: This is who I am now, without him. A little older. None the wiser, but at least I know it. A little more worried about my mum and taking care of her. A little more aware of the sadness that comes with life.


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