by Holly Mohr
Grief has been taking me by surprise lately.
For months, I barely felt anything at all, except maybe anger. I figured I had already done my grieving, that I’d been grieving since 2003.
Much to my surprise, I broke down the other day. It was a regular Tuesday, an hour or so before yet another evening meeting. It had been weeks and weeks of evening meetings every day, and I thought I’d throw myself a little bone. I would eat my dinner in the most beautiful room of our education center, the one that overlooks the city, and I would listen to some jazz while I savored a bowl of minestrone soup.
I’d been avoiding my Ella Fitzgerald Pandora station for months. It’d been a strictly instrumental jazz diet for me since September. But something told me to loosen up that night, to let in the sounds of Ella, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole (Bing Crosby would have been just a step too far, as though I were trying to generate unrelenting pain).
“Fly me to the Moon” came on, and it filled up the room with the energy of twenty people.
Sinatra was never my dad’s favorite (that was Bing, without a doubt. My dad had found Frank Sinatra a bit gauche–something about the alleged mob connections of the Rat Pack), but Sinatra would always do in a pinch.
As soon as I heard the opening lines, I couldn’t move.
I hesitate to say it this way; there’s something about it that reeks of wish fulfillment, of gross sentimentality, but in that moment, it was as though Scott Krause were speaking to me, as though he were actively trying to break through my hardened, finally well-boundaried walls. It was as though he’d found a way to break through and get to the heart of me again, like maybe he’d been trying and trying and finally figured it out.
“Fly me to the moon
And let me play among the stars
Let me see what spring is like
On Jupiter and Mars”
It was as though I could see his face. I could have sworn I saw him smile in surprise, relief, excitement that he’d finally made the connection. I thought I maybe saw him look to the person next to him and say, “That’s my little girl! Look at her!”
I’ve been a Catholic all my life, and I’ve dealt with death before. I’ve lost all the grandparents, even some friends. Never before have I been so afraid, though, of what happens after death.
My dad had a good death, much better than any of us expected. He seemed to access a peace that delivered him from here to there with grace. But in spite of witnessing that process, in spite of the faith I’ve held all my life and continue to hold today, I have been terrified that my dad might just be . . . gone. That he has ceased to exist. I’m afraid that he is nowhere.
I believe, Lord. Help my unbelief.
People talk about feeling the presence of their loved ones who have passed, that they talk to their beloved dead, that their loved ones come to them in dreams. It hasn’t been that way with me and my dad. My mom and I have even joked that we’re a little offended he hasn’t come back to haunt us (though she has seen a couple of his favorite glasses go missing, so then again, who knows)?
But that night in the View Room, I felt wrapped up in some kind of warmth. I let my guard down a bit and allowed myself to wonder if maybe this is the way he can get through to me.
I saw him dancing the way he did at my wedding, the way he would on Saturday nights. He would make filet and pour gorgeous Cabernet, and he and I would dance in the living room. He would swing me back and forth, and he would smile. There was always an awkwardness to the way he would dance, as though he were a little boy just learning. But there was a lightness to him at those times, a hopeful joy that wouldn’t show up on too many other occasions.
(How could you be gone, Daddy? How is it really possible to be gone? I don’t get it).
“Fill my heart with song
And let me sing for ever more
“You are all I long for
All I worship and adore
“In other words, I love you”
(Okay. I hear you, Daddy. I’m listening).
By this time, I’d walked over to the window and spotted a man taking a selfie below. He was bald in the middle of his head, but only in the middle. Just like my dad.
One Christmas when I was little, I asked my dad why he had a “wreath.” To me, his head looked just like what we had on our front door. I remember his eyes light up when I asked the question. For the next twenty-five years my dad would refer to his bald head as his “wreath.”
Seeing the man’s “wreath” below me was just about as much as I could take. I backed away from the window and let myself sob. But only for a few minutes. There were 250 emails in front of me, after all, and a meeting to lead in twenty minutes. I picked myself up, unlocked the front door, and welcomed in the next group. Back to business, back to boundaries.
But now maybe he knows how to find me.