42. I have been 42 for more than seven months now. But as those seven months end and as I move closer and closer toward 43, I cannot help but think about my mortality. I cannot help but think that 42 years is how long my own father got. That's it. That's all.
And with his death, came the journey of my life at five years of age, learning again how to live, learning to live without him, not understanding the meaning of his death in that moment. And experiencing it again for the first time, 31 years later when my own child died and knowing finally how permanent death is.
42 years. Leaving behind a wife, a 13-year old son, an 11-year-old son, a 9-year-old son, and a 5-year-old daughter. And that is how I have always seen it. Until now.
And now, I see a life left still living. Leaving at 42 is leaving behind your own life, leaving behind your joys and sorrows. Leaving behind all of those things you imagined on the days that your children were born. Leaving behind their weddings and births of your grandchildren; leaving behind the death of your parents; leaving behind your daughter's high school graduation; leaving behind yours sons' marriages to their wives. Never knowing what it means to hold a grandchild in your arms; never being able to console your daughter when she grieves. Never being there to mediate an argument; to hold your wife again in your arms; never being able to sit again with your six-year-old, now seven and eight-year-old. Never taking your grandchildren out for an ice cream cone; never seeing the joy on their faces as they tear into their gifts on Christmas morning.
And at 42 with all three children on the couch, sharing a bowl of popcorn while watching a movie, I feel the inexplicable grief at being unable to call my father to tell him about this moment. I feel the grief of a daughter who for so many years has known the emptiness at losing a parent unaware that this emptiness was so much less even than the emptiness of losing a daughter and how is that even possible? How is it possible to sit one emptiness next to another and compare it? It really is no more or less, but together that emptiness is huge. That emptiness and longing feels like an open wound that sometimes closes and heals, but most of the time remains raw and exposed only pretending to be something other than it really is.
It is at best bearable and at worst excruciating. It is a kind of love so large that it tears open the heart and literally pauses the breath and closes the throat. It is a kind of longing so huge that words seem like empty placeholders filling up a page with mindless letter after letter, word after word creating nothing more than its own kind of void filled with nothing more than words on a page.
42. It is a kind of grief all on its own to live through this year. To make it to 43. A birthday that can only be bittersweet in the passing of it because living through this year cannot be a kind of celebration, it cannot be a joy worth celebrating. But it can be a life worth remembering. It is the closest I can get to being nearer to my father.
A father who for me is merely a series of photographs and told stories. A father whose face I cannot even conjure up without the help of a photograph. A father who I've been told from story after story after story that I was loved and wanted and wished for and prayed for. And to that again I say sometimes it feels like empty words on a page because nothing, nothing can bring him back into view for me. And with all the cells of my being I want nothing more than my father here sitting on the couch with my children and with a six year old sitting on his lap in the form of my other daughter, also missing.
And that is the kind of longing that never leaves. That is the kind of longing that stays behind no matter what joys come along. It is, in fact, that longing that sometimes makes the joy even sweeter, the heart sing louder, the love feel bigger than anything any words can ever describe.