To those of you who left comments and sent me notes of condolence, my thanks. They were very much appreciated in a particularly difficult time.
Upon news of my mother’s passing, my wife and I immediately left for the Bay Area. My father did not think there was much we could do to help, but I felt a strong urge to be with him and the others of our family who could make it through the weather. To grieve alone, to mourn without the consolation (and, to be frank, the distraction) of others, is a risky thing. Contrary to the old adage, Misery actually hates Company; Misery abates with each retelling of the tale, but when we are alone, Misery multiplies.
There were hopeful moments–the day-long communal effort that went into the making of our family’s traditional Xmas Eve Cioppino is a story unto itself–and there were moments of anguished heartache about which I will never tell a soul. I watched my father vacillate between anger, despair, resignation, and gratitude. Each phone call became a chore as he heard the warm words of kindness and had his own sadness renewed, his grief relived.
My father lost his first wife, my mother, almost fifty years ago after thirteen years of marriage. Now, he has lost a second wife, after forty-seven years together. The one recalls the other, and all our mourning is compounded.
But my week was well spent. My father is a distinctly mid-20th century man whom my mother insulated from the raging change of modern 21st century life. I spent the week as a forensic secretary, deconstructing and reconstructing my mother’s office, finding accounts, passwords, user-ids. We organized the bills, began consolidating accounts, found missing checks, and shut down email subscriptions. In short, we began simplifying the household, so my father could begin to feel once more at home. I don’t think he likes the place anymore–it irks him, and it needles him, with its needs and its modernity. He wants a printed newspaper with a printed crossword puzzle. He wants bills that come by post, not to an inbox. He writes checks on paper and enters them in a register. He does the math in his head, eschewing any sort of calculator other than the one with which he was born. He will never update a Netflix queue or watch a television show off the DVR. He will never read an e-book. He admits the modern world only where he absolutely must. He carries a mobile phone, he separates his recyclables, he turns the TV on with a remote.
This is his true self. This is who he is. And anything I can do to make his world easier, I shall.