No Good Time

August 30, 2017

I discovered something this year. Something that, maybe, everyone else already knew.

There is no good time to die.

My father died four days after Christmas, eight days after his birthday, two days before the new-year, two-ish months before my fourth birthday.  Growing up I would think that I wished he had died in the summer, in the spring, at any time that wasn’t a holiday marked by family getting together and celebrating birth and renewal, away from a time that was used to celebrate him in particular. Even though I was too young to really understand what was happening, I could feel the weight of what had happened all around me and see it on the faces of my family.

The weight doesn’t ever lift entirely. I’m 39 years old now it has been 37 years since he died, and still, in December, there is, at times, heaviness around my family. Like any good, east coast WASPy family, we don’t talk about it, or him, much. He was good, he lived, he loved us all, he died, they mourned, and, after a time, life kept moving. But everything changed when he died, or at least it started to.

When you’re three, time feels long; each Christmas feels like an eternity from one another. My husband told me that time passes more quickly as we age because our frame of reference is so much bigger – a year is a small slice of 39 years, a year is a much bigger piece of the pie for someone who is three. I have a hard time with time and space, it overwhelms me when I think about it too much, but this makes sense. Not only did I not fully understand death, but the idea of my first birthday without my father, my first summer vacation without my father, my first day of school without my father – these are things I didn’t think about until much later. That I was missing out on anything probably didn’t really occur to me until I was getting married, and most of those feelings I pushed off on pop culture and the patriarchy.

About a month ago, while driving or washing my hair – when I do my best thinking because I can’t write anything down – I started thinking about loss and wondering if the entire purpose of life is to really understand it and what it means. I know how that sounds, but I realized this year that my method of coping with loss isn’t really working for me. I take feelings and I file them away, in an imaginary filing cabinet. Pull open the drawer, tab through, maybe open a folder now and again and look at the highlight reel, but then tuck it away neatly, in alphabetical order, put it back in the drawer, close it, lock it, don’t spend too much time with it, get back down to business. It’s like my German grandmother was standing on my shoulder when I read about compartmentalization and said, “Yes, that seems like the most efficient way of managing this.” And I went for it.

So why are we here? Why am I writing? And why isn’t this funny?

My sister died.

My amazing, funny, kind, infuriating, stubborn, smart sister died in September, on Labor Day weekend. Two weeks before her forty-ninth birthday, two months before Halloween (my first Halloween without her), three months before Thanksgiving (my first Thanksgiving without her), four months before our father’s birthday, Christmas, the anniversary of his death, the new year, our mother’s birthday… (all firsts without, without, without, without).

We’re here because my sister died. I’m writing because not writing wasn’t working. And it’s not funny because, well, this part of this story isn’t.

I have officially run out of firsts. There is something about the markers of time after a person important to you dies, those firsts are goal posts – finish lines. “Okay, if we get through this Thanksgiving, the first Thanksgiving, it’s a sign that we can do this.” Then it’s over and you’re still standing. You’ve managed the awkward conversations and interactions with all of the other left over people; you know the ones with too many long stretches of quiet on the phone “Are you still there?” “Yes, just thinking, sorry.” And the hugs that are a little too long and too tight for someone as tightly wound as you are, and you’re looking at the next goal post, the next hurdle, the next (I wish I knew more about sports) finish line and steeling yourself all over again.

Now that it’s been 12 months, a year that went by too fast and too slow at the same time, I’m starting to panic because how do I measure time without her now? In seconds? And then what? Thirds, fourths, fifths, until it’s a tiny echo? I can feel my entire body bounce back from this idea – like a magnet held too close to another magnet, constant pushing away when I try to close in on the idea of it. That’s not how this works, but I can’t figure out how it’s supposed to work.

So here we are, the beginning of an ending, and figuring out how this is going to work.