December 29 – Defining moment. Describe a defining moment or series of events that has affected your life this year.
Those who have lost loved ones are probably familiar with the point in the grieving process where you realize that the person is never coming back. Obviously, you’ve known all along that death is pretty permanent, but it still takes quite some time before the less rational parts of your being accept the fact as well.
When my father’s portrait was placed in the lobby at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, I realized that there was the end, right there, on the wall. The portrait “unveiling” was like a period at the end of a sentence of the last paragraph on the last page of a book. Full stop. “Well, that’s that”, I thought. It’s amazing how we are born, we live and carve a path on this planet, we die, and all that is physically left is a painting on a wall in a lobby of a busy urban hospital. Dare I say millions of people will come to pass that portrait? They will read the accompanying plaque and wonder about the man behind the spectacles. There is no more knowing him. I have avoided stopping and staring at the painting when I am in the hospital for fear that someone with “catch” me and wonder what the heck I’m doing with my nose practically pressed up to the thing. I think about my dad, bodiless, floating around somewhere, watching me watch him. I get an odd feeling in my gut – the same feeling I get when I misplace something. I know that I KNOW where the darn thing is, I just can’t find it, can’t grasp it. It drives me nuts. Just where could he be? Where on earth could I have put him? I usually have to open up the box I keep in my closet of “mom and dad” to find him. I guess in a way, he does come back. Just not in the way I would like.
The portrait is so life-like, so warm and golden in its tones, that you almost expect him to wink as you pass by. But Hogwarts, HUP is not and I don’t expect to see my father’s visage floating in and out of the frame any time soon. My auntie Jackie, who lives in Richmond, on the same street that she once padded down barefoot as a child when it was a dirt road, told me of how she regularly talks to her deceased husband. Sometimes, when she visits him at the cemetery, she even yells at him. “I just go and cuss him out when I’m mad at him for leaving. Nothing wrong with doing that once in a while.” And I think that’s ok. It’s ok to be angry with people about being left behind and all the things they didn’t say and the questions they didn’t answer.
The aunties, or Daisies as the elder matriarchs in our family have come to be known, remind me that my grandma ‘Ree – whom I seem to greatly take after at times – did things a whole lot crazier than talking to dead relatives, so there should be no shame in it. I’m guessing there may be some days when I take a chair in the lobby and look across the corridor and have a word or two with my father; maybe even yell a little bit.