Sunday, July 19, 2015

Father's Day

Father's Day was bittersweet. Sweet in being able to celebrate with Mike, who is fully invested in being Clark's dad. Sweet in being able to celebrate with the dear Gruver-Kelly clan - a family I grew up with in Duluth, now transplanted to the East Bay; who have been surrogate family for me out here; and who remembered and toasted Scott. Bitter in remembering how much Scott loved Clark and adored fathering him, how fiercely he wanted his love for Clark to sustain his life and overcome his cancer.

In the last year of Scott's life, I began to feel that the happiest moments were often the hardest to bear, as though I were being simultaneously warmed by the sun and chilled by a breeze. I feared (and sometimes knew) that those idyllic moments - a trip to the beach, a pancake breakfast, an afternoon coffee date - were rapidly coming to an end. I was nostalgic for the present. Now, looking back, many memories from my relationship with Scott get that nostalgic glow: dinners with friends in DC, Saturday morning butterflies before an Ultimate tournament, crazy cooking experiments. I miss our life in DC and our life in Davis; I miss his circle of friends from Amherst; I miss our young love, the newlywed period, embarking on the grand enterprise of parenting with him. I'd miss most of these things even if he were alive today; they're from a different era (except for his crazy cooking; I'm pretty sure that spark would have kept going strong). Is this another chunk of grief to process or just nostalgia? Maybe both. Maybe his absence accentuates the loss of so many other parts of our shared experience. Our common memories - things that were just between the two of us - are now held by one less, and talking about them with someone else feels like telling someone your overnight dreams. The listener wasn't there, so can't partake in the vividness. If Scott were here, he would have been able to join me in the memory; and he would have enriched it by reminding me of other details I hadn't thought about. (All of this makes me wonder how important memories are - so long as I remember his spirit and our love, is the rest more or less clutter? A topic for another time.)

I think Father's Day was also hard because the previous Father's Day felt so momentous (We were in Amherst for Scott's memorial service, surrounded by people who love him.), and because the year since then has been so full. Clark blossomed at his new preschool. I started feeling like a real doctor during my clinical rotations. Scott's nephew was born. As much as I believe in life after death and Scott's enduring presence in my life, he wasn't here, on the ground, viscerally engaged. There's a lot he's missed out on. And Clark now knows him from stories and photos rather than from breakfasts and dinners and goodnight kisses.

In a very strange way, it's reassuring to still feel this grief and longing and nostalgia. It's different from how it was during the first year postmortem, much softer. But I don't want to stop missing him. Many people have assured me that just because you stop grieving, doesn't mean you stop remembering. This makes intuitive sense, but I'm glad the transition away from grief is a gradual one.

Related reading

1.  Inside Out, the new Pixar movie, articulates nostalgia beautifully, showing how memories change and develop complexity over time. It's a fantastic movie; go see it if you haven't already. Here's a Washington Post article about the great emotional lessons of the film.

2. Here's a good article on nostalgia - the birth of the word, high school reunions, and looking forward.
You can go home again, at least to a place—whether Ithaka or a childhood manse—but you cannot go back in time, except in memory, or accidental encounters with old friends, or those occasional moments of high-spirited jollity, planned but not imposed. 
3. One of my very favorite essays from The New Yorker, on "what the dead don't know."