Grief is weird. Even years after the loss of someone you love, it will rise up and punch you in the face for no apparent reason.
One early morning, about 3:00am, I woke up from a dream about my father.
I was a little girl, probably about 8, the same age of my daughter, dressed in a light smocked dress so popular in the 70s. My hair was braided in two pony-tails finished off with those hand-tied yarn bows that nobody wears anymore. I wore black shiny shoes and white cuffed socks. I was desperately looking for "daddy" at Suburban Train Station in Philadelphia. This was the back-in- the-day, dark industrial station of my childhood, not the more modern shiny version of today. I was running and calling out for Daddy.
I found him at the end of one of the dark platforms, he was young, younger than he ever was in my life, and wearing one of those slender dark suits of the 50s. His hair was parted and slicked just so, and his thin mustache was a perfectly groomed. He smiled, swooped me up in his arms as I rushed forward, and held me. As I cried in the warmth of his neck I could smell his Old English aftershave. I could feel the cool of his wedding band against my bare skin. I repeatedly begged him not to leave me all the while knowing I would never see him again.
I woke up out of the dream dry-eyed, I think, but confused. I wrapped myself around my covers like a kid wraps around the gymnasium rope after they have climbed too far. The confusion lifted, and the grief erupted. Belched out of me from a place so suppressed I didn't know was there. I longed for him. After almost 30 years after his death, I desperately longed for my daddy.
But I get grief. I still twinge when I see identical baby girls cooing and laughing in their double strollers. It is always girls. That twinge is that very tiny part of me that feels the unfairness of it all. That I should have two 8 year olds running about talking my ear off and getting into all my stuff. Grief changes, but it remains.
I realize that it is not only the people we love that we grieve. We can grieve our mistakes, grieve our glory days, grieve our failed relationships. I think grief is the acknowledgement of the hole left by something we expected or yearned to be with us forever. I didn't realize it until recently, but for decades I have been mourning a part of myself.
I wrote music alongside of my poems and stories. I sang and practiced my instrument in the same mental and emotional space that I used when writing for hours on end. The only time I was not shy and withdrawn was when I was singing the songs I created. After my father died, I stopped. Not immediately, but within a year or two my singing and songwriting just withered away to nothing. I sold my instruments and literally forgot years and years of music. I stopped listening to the radio and going to concerts. I severed my connection with arts and music, including the musicians and singers that I performed or collaborated with. I can't even remember their names. I literally erased music's importance from memory. From time to time my real voice would show-up when I sang in Church, but I silenced it quickly, making sure that I remained mediocre.
Last year I was watching a documentary about a singer-songwriter and I felt the familiar twinge. It took me by surprise, because for the first time I recognized it for what it was. Grief. I was watching someone else do what I was supposed to be doing. It was almost identical to what I felt when a neighbor came home from the hospital with identical twin girls. That should be me. Not the fame or fortune, I really don't care about that. I was mourning the "doing".
The funny thing is that my writing - my novels, essays and poems have limped along ever since I stopped writing and performing music. So many unrealized ideas and barely written projects. So much starting and stopping, never being able to get into the flow despite my declarations, and the demands made on my creativity. It is all connected. A three-wheeled car doesn't roll.
My father and daughter are gone. They are where they are supposed to be. No matter how much I long after them, I can't bring them back to me. My memorial to them is to make the decision everyday to live a happy and healthy life. Time hasn't past me by completely. I can still put the wheel back on my own life and keep rolling. I can pick up anything I dropped along the way if that is what I want to do. I'm making damn sure that I am no longer going to grieve the loss of something I still have.