My dad liked to read my blog. In fact, the last time I saw him he bragged to my mom that he had “made it onto Wistar’s blog!” (I’d recently written a post about our mutual glee regarding the Dictionary.com snafu.) Dad also played a crucial role in the One Star Watt Turtle/Frog/Spider Saga of 2008. After a woman wrote a letter to the Charlottesville Daily Progress chastising pool owners for letting innocent creatures drown, my guilt-ridden father fashioned wooden rafts for the pool filters. He envisioned that the tiny ladders he attached would enable mice or frogs to climb to safety until they could be rescued. But Dad said the rafts hadn’t worked as well as he’d hoped so he was devising another system when he, himself, drowned.
You can imagine that I have a lot of feelings about my father’s recent, unanticipated, unfathomable death, and many of them are on the verge of being unbearable, and others are too private to express here, but there are a few things I would like to share with my people on the other side of this immortal Internet.
1) When the worst happens, it is okay to cope by picturing your loved one working really late at the office. If a week goes by and he or she is still not home, then start thinking California or New Zealand. I bet the weather is great there this time of year. I hope Dad remembered his hiking boots!
2) Diet Coke is the official bereavement beverage. My friend Mary and I decided the company should launch a new marketing campaign. Maybe the ads could show a glass of Diet Coke on ice beside a glass of fizzy tears on ice. “Can you taste the difference? No. Unfortunately I can’t taste anything right now.” That slogan needs some work.
3) When close friends fly in to be with your distraught siblings, it is probably not okay to fuck with them by yelling, “Dad’s favorite coffee mug!” when they accidentally knock one from the kitchen cabinet to the floor.
4) Online registries have provided many newlywed couples with china and silver, but a bereavement registry has even more potential. “Toilet paper, plastic cups, cheap white wine, whiskey, we’re good on Kleenex.” We also considered an iPhone app that would photograph and take notes on flower arrangements so you won’t get in trouble with your mother by just writing “flowers” in the little book. The app would be called iMsad.
5) Bringing babies to a household in mourning is always a good idea. Just make sure you dress them in their cutest outfits, or let them get into something beforehand like one greasy, adorable, unsalted visitor whom we were forced to nickname “Butter Baby.” Kids rubbed in food make good conversation starters. If you truly feel sympathetic toward the grieving family, you will sacrifice your child’s dignity to make us laugh. Puppies are also good accessories.
6) For at least the first few weeks (also known as that endless day) after you’ve lost someone (Where is he? When is he coming home? He forgot all his stuff!), don’t try to drive. Don’t try to leave the mourning compound. Don’t try to return phone calls. There’s nowhere to go, nothing to say. There’s no focus, there’s no agency. Find the safest, most loving place and just be there quietly until your legs and arms and lungs work properly again.
7) Count your blessings if you have a mother who allows you to joke about “Dad’s other family” that might show up at any minute asking for money and heirlooms.
8 ) Recall the Buddhist saying: “Before enlightenment, tote water, chop wood. After enlightenment, tote water, chop wood.” Lugging around compost buckets, trash bags, vacuum cleaners, and frozen lasagna can be pretty Zen too.
9) Speaking of toting, don’t come over unless you come bearing soup, alcohol, a Virginia ham, or pie. Exceptions can be made for people who give really good hugs or for those who possess a sick sense of humor.
10) Every email, card, text, Facebook comment, and phone call matters, even if you don’t get a response right away. Don’t be a stranger. If you feel uncomfortable getting in touch or you don’t know what to say, just remember that no one knows how to navigate death*, least of all the people who just had their hearts ripped out. And if you want to come over and be awkward or accidentally have your fly undone when you do the hugging rounds, all the better. We will find comfort in laughing at you later. Again, sacrifice.
Dad, you made the blog. I love you.