My father died on October 10th, 2006. The upcoming anniversary of his death prompted me to write about it.
I’ve written a bit about this before, particularly his funeral, but I figured I’d write something different this time, and also, it felt right as the last thing to publish as someone who is 26 and stupid. (Although I’ll keep writing as a stupid 27 year old.)
When I was 19, my father lost his ugly and brutal battle with cancer, and it forever changed who I was as a person. It wasn’t a deep-release, and it wasn’t heart-warming in any conventional TV drama kind of way. There was no poetry or reason behind it. And it was slow and painful. My family watched a man who spent every day exercising, working, and enjoying literature and side hobbies, degenerate into a crumbling physical shell. And he resented himself for that weakness. I mean, he still had a sixpack in his fifties for god’s sake.
I was devastated, bitter, and angry, and it seeped into every part of my life. I think that’s something that people who haven’t lost someone don’t understand, or at least, can’t internalize. Every day there are looming thoughts. Every special occasion, there is a sense of bittersweet absence. And for a time, I resented everyone that didn’t experience that same loss. Every friend and every foe. Every character from fiction. As a matter of fact, it’s probably negatively affected every relationship and friendship I’ve had in my life. I spent too many years of my life treating people like shit because of it. I’ve lost friends because of it, but they’ll never know the reason.
But everyone who had gone through it, I felt, on some level, was family to me.
I spoke frequently about it to Doris, a good friend from law school, who went through nearly the same thing that I did. We shared this framework of compassion (and lack thereof) that we would sometimes call the Tragedy Olympics. Lost a grandparent? Nah, not good enough. Lost a parent? How old were you? Oh, 30? You had your chance. Lost both parents when you were younger than us? You win, and you can judge us however you’d like until the end of all time. Needless to say, this was an unhealthy way of thinking.
I think I’m finally at a point where I can stop being unfairly awful to people, and where I am able to empathize with others and their own struggles. I don’t even really know when it happened, or why it happened, but at some point, I just didn’t want to resent everyone anymore. And so I didn’t.
It’s been seven years, and each year that passes, I worry more about reaching that point in my life where I’ve lived more without him than with him.
My dad loved watches and clocks. He had a watchmaker’s desk. He would dissemble and reassemble watches and clocks for fun. He literally had a collection of over one hundred books on watch making. I didn’t understand it all. But he had his watches, and, at the time, I had my poetry. And we both silently respected each other’s hobbies and passions.
Five years after he died, I was visiting my mom’s house while she was cleaning, and we noticed a piece of paper lodged behind one of his clocks on the wall. We were obviously not that good at cleaning his clocks for it to go unnoticed for so many years.
Anyway, it was a print out of a poem by Edgar Guest:
Winding The Clock
When I was but a little lad, my old Grandfather said
That none should wind the clock but he, and so, at time for bed,
He’d fumble for the curious key kept high upon the shelf
And set aside that little task entirely for himself.
In time Grandfather passed away, and so that duty fell
Unto my Father, who performed the weekly custom well;
He held that clocks were not to be by careless persons wound,
And he alone should turn the key or move the hands around.
I envied him that little task, and wished that I might be
The one to be entrusted with the turning of the key;
But year by year the clock was his exclusive bit of care
Until the day the angels came and smoothed his silver hair.
To-day the task is mine to do, like those who’ve gone before
I am a jealous guardian of that round and glassy door,
And ’til at my chamber door God’s messenger shall knock
To me alone shall be reserved the right to wind the clock.
And maybe it was cheesy and too sentimental. And maybe I won’t ever be able to internalize the message and lesson he tried to give me through this poem. But it was nicer than I can properly explain to be able to hear from him for the first time in five years.