THE LONG GOOD­BYE

Molly Rosen Guy on love, grief and los­ing her dad

Red - - Contents - Molly Rosen Guy is founder of Stone Fox Bride and au­thor of Love, Lust And Wed­ding Plan­ning For The Wild At Heart. Fol­low @mol­ly­rosen­guy

On the last lu­cid af­ter­noon of my dad’s life, I sat at his bed­side while he ate a Pop­si­cle. It was the dead of win­ter. He’d re­cently re­ceived a stem cell trans­plant for a rare form of blood can­cer called myelofi­bro­sis, and his im­mune sys­tem was shot. I was scared, but also op­ti­mistic. In a few days, said the doc­tors, he’d be feel­ing bet­ter. Later, when the nurse stopped by to check vi­tals, Dad told him, ‘I can see the light at the end of the tun­nel.’ I, of course, grasp­ing for good news, thought he was re­fer­ring to his heal­ing process. It was only the next day, stand­ing over his slack body as he’d just slid into a coma, that it oc­curred to me: he had been star­ing into the abyss of death.

A few months ear­lier, when it be­came clear that Dad would need a stem cell trans­plant, he left Chicago, where he lived with my mum, and moved to New York City (where both my sis­ter and I live) to be­gin treat­ment. He slept in my 11-year-old niece’s bed­room, and spent his days Uber­ing to and from the hospi­tal for chemo­ther­apy. I be­came his wing­woman. Ac­com­pa­ny­ing him to doc­tor’s ap­point­ments, email­ing his friends back home, en­cour­ag­ing him to eat… it was the first time in my life that my dad needed tak­ing care of, and I was hell­bent on do­ing it well.

My dad, Robert, was the first­born son of four – metic­u­lous, a team sport player and a nat­u­ral leader. I was the sec­ond-born daugh­ter – sloppy, lazy, cor­ner­cut­ting and fash­ion-ob­sessed.

If our ear­lier re­la­tion­ship was a film mon­tage, you’d see a re­bel­lious, ratty-haired teen in dirty jeans yelling swear­words at her straight-shoot­ing, for­mer Boy Scout, busi­ness­man fa­ther. But Dad al­ways showed up for me, even at my worst. He taught me how to make a bud­get, a fire and pasta from scratch. When it was time for me to show up for him, at the age of 40, I did. ‘You’re my rock,’ he said one Sun­day af­ter­noon af­ter I sat with him in the ER for nine hours. Peo­ple say the sec­ond you hold your baby, you be­come a mother. Maybe that prin­ci­ple also ap­plies in re­verse. You only re­ally be­come a child when you’re forced, as an adult, to take care of your par­ent – take care of them like your life de­pends on it – the way they once took care of you.

The be­gin­ning of my dad’s di­ag­no­sis was fairly hope­ful. ‘Seventy per cent chance you’ll sur­vive and re­sume life as usual,’ said the doc­tor. Up un­til re­cently, he played bas­ket­ball and ten­nis sev­eral times a week. He was 6ft 6in, with a full head of black hair. He ran a non-profit foun­da­tion. He was deeply in love with my mum – his wife of 46 years. ‘She’s the most in­ter­est­ing woman I know,’ he of­ten said. And then the odds changed. Chemo wasn’t work­ing. ‘Odds are one in five,’ said the doc­tor. He died two months later.

The night Dad stopped breath­ing was one of the most peace­ful of my life. Af­ter all the wait­ing, my body eased into the re­al­i­sa­tion it was over. I slept for eight hours. Out­side, New York City was blan­keted in snow. The weeks fol­low­ing were not peace­ful. Grief is one vi­o­lent moth­er­fucker. Real sad­ness is not quiet, it is chaos. ‘My heart is bro­ken, I have to take it easy,’ I told the teacher at Pi­lates when she asked if any­one had in­juries. Mourn­ing was a phys­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence. Con­stantly heavy, swollen and slug­gish, a rov­ing pain moved through­out my back, neck and stom­ach at all times. I of­ten walked

out of work events mid-con­ver­sa­tion to weep in a bath­room. Thank God for my kids, who kept me func­tion­ing when I was at an all-time emo­tional low. Be­ing a mum – and there­fore re­quired to make lunches, wipe butts and sing lul­la­bies – was the rea­son I got out of bed each day.

I was also in the process of di­vorc­ing my hus­band. It was a sud­den, hellish split, but de­spite the ran­cour that ex­isted be­tween us, we man­aged to be­have kindly to one an­other (most of the time, any­way). My dad wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Some­times, though, I snapped. Once, in the wait­ing room in the ICU, where I sat sob­bing, my ex-hus­band placed his arm around my shoul­der. ‘Take your fuck­ing hand off my back!’ I screamed. ‘Just be­cause I’m sad does not mean I want you to touch me!’ The con­nec­tion I once had for him, no longer ro­man­tic, be­came al­most sib­ling-like. Noth­ing was more im­por­tant to my dad than fam­ily, and keep­ing my daugh­ter’s fa­ther around, de­spite my per­sonal gripes with him, be­came a pri­or­ity. My ex was the last per­son to hold Dad’s hand be­fore he slipped into un­con­scious­ness, and for that I will for ever be grate­ful.

At my Dad’s burial, un­known to me, my brother-in-law took a pic­ture of me crouched over his grave while he was be­ing low­ered into the ground. That night, I posted it on my per­sonal In­sta­gram ac­count @mol­ly­rosen­guy with an ex­cerpt from the speech I’d read at the fu­neral.

The com­ments were so sup­port­ive I de­cided to post an­other ex­cerpt the next day – along with a pic­ture of me and Dad from my child­hood. Then I de­cided to write a let­ter to him every day for 30 days. I am still go­ing strong 199 days later. I’ve amassed a fol­low­ing of 11,000 peo­ple who write to me daily shar­ing their mourn­ing sto­ries. We are called the #cluboflost­daugh­ters. In Ju­daism, an­cient mourn­ing rit­u­als in­clude recit­ing the Kad­dish prayer every day for a year, cov­er­ing all the mir­rors in your house, en­ter­ing the tem­ple through a sep­a­rate gate and ty­ing a black rib­bon to your clothes. None of them felt right to me, but the daily re­mem­brances do. The Club Of Lost Daugh­ters com­mu­nity has be­come one of my tem­ples. It’s where I go to lessen the load.

Grow­ing up, my dad mopped the floors and ironed our clothes for the week every Sun­day. He was a li­censed pi­lot. He was the first in his fam­ily to go to col­lege. He could stuff a chicken or fix a clock or a car; he had tons of friends but loved be­ing by him­self. He was good with num­bers, and he was a wood­worker, a poet, a philoso­pher. I used to phone him when I had 10 min­utes to spare to ask for his recipe for cab­bage soup or gra­nola, or just to ‘chitchat’ (his words). He was solid. A Taurus. He was who I called when I was feel­ing unmoored and needed to re­mem­ber where my roots were. His abil­ity to re­main calm and present helped me through all my hard times. The irony of this whole griev­ing thing doesn’t es­cape me: I need to mourn the death of my dad with my dad.

But ev­ery­thing is dif­fer­ent now. My world has a be­fore and af­ter: Be­fore Dad Died and Af­ter Dad Died. I have lit­tle pa­tience for peo­ple who don’t get that. Be­fore I go to sleep, I say a prayer to be clear-headed so that Dad will come to me in my dreams. His death has turned me into an am­a­teur clair­voy­ant; some days I think he comes to me through signs like pen­nies and but­ter­flies but other days the floor drops out and the truth hits me and it hurts so bad: he is never com­ing back.

Six months ago, my dad took his last breath due to com­pli­ca­tions from a stem cell trans­plant and now he is gone for ever. I can’t talk to him, hug him, laugh with him – and I never will again. There is no light at the end of that tun­nel, and that’s where I’ve landed for now. Walk­ing alone in the dark, star­ing at the stars.

‘MY DAD WAS WHO I CALLED WHEN I FELT UNMOORED’

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