Tomorrow, someone I love about as much as you can love someone is getting on a plane to fly across the globe to help her mother bring her father’s ashes home. She’s a newly initiated member of The Club, this someone. What club, you ask? The Dead Parent Club.
Most all of us will become members eventually, but like The Childbirth Club and The Cancer Club, you can’t possibly know what it feels like to join The Dead Parent Club’s ranks until you have lost one of the two people on this earth whose blood and bones made your blood and bones.
A hint for those of you non-club members wondering what it feels like: It sucks.
Thinking back on February 2011 and my own introduction to this rarefied group, I think what was hardest to reconcile for me was the feeling that I was taking a step into true – no going back now – adulthood at the same time that I was reverting to childlike instincts I hadn’t felt since, well, childhood. In those days immediately following my dad’s death I was forced to tackle a to do list that included cremation and obituaries and death certificates and probate (adulthood) when all I wanted to do was curl up in a ball on my bed and take a nap (childhood). Scratch that. All I really really wanted was my Daddy.
I’ve been thinking about The Club a lot in the last forty-eight hours, mostly because this someone of mine, this true and blue and very best of friends, is one of the first people close to me who’s joined the club since my own membership began. In the way that others did for me, I feel this tremendous responsibility to help her navigate the treacherous waters she’s been pushed into. Yes, pushed. Some people are lucky enough, if you can possibly call it lucky, to have a heads up before their initiation into the club. That was me and my siblings: a long and winding six year initiation that included cancer treatments and surgeries and the warm glow of hope followed, finally, by a sinking despair. For others, like my friend, it comes swiftly and shockingly and in the blink of an eye. You wake up to a phone call and the floor beneath your feet falls away. Fuck.
When that happens to you, when that call comes, the people around you are shocked, too, and they wonder how to handle this new state of affairs. How to handle your grief. Know who you must turn to then, dedicated readers? The Club. That’s why it exists, this motley assortment of people who have one sad thing in common. It exists so that someone in the world knows what to say to you when words feel so slight and empty. So that someone in the world knows to take you by the hand and show you around the clubhouse. To explain to you how the monthly dues are paid and which locker room is yours. And to walk you slowly into the common area, sit you down in a comfortable chair with a warm cup of tea, and tell you what you need to hear: That this is going to hurt for a long long time. That you should let yourself cry as much and as often as you need to. That the hole you can feel opening in your heart isn’t going to close anytime soon.
But, my friend, I promise you this. It will ease, that hurt. They’ll become less frequent, those tears. And, maybe better than anyone else, I know that heart of yours, I know it so well. And that heart is strong. It’s resilient and big and able to withstand this pain, it really truly is. And, until you know these things for yourself, you’ll always have The Club. We’re here when you need us.