- Susie Csorsz Brown
Although we've certainly watched enough super hero movies to know the qualities needed, I've always been aware of the fact that we are not, in fact, immortal. Death and taxes, the two inevitables, right? But one also does not like to think of their parents dying. When we hear of other families going through this, naturally our hearts go out to them, and we feel great sympathy. A parent dying is a huge role reversal, no matter one's age. I mean, this is YOUR PARENT, one of the people who took care of you, who taught you much of what you know, who encouraged you, who helped you become the person you are. Your parents gave you both good and bad habits to mimic, they gave you an allowance allowing you to purchase your first trinkets, they gave you bandaids, hugs and kisses, and pats on the back. They hovered, they helicoptered, and they tigered. They were the ones towards whom you left the sanctity of the couch or wall for to take the first wobbly step without support. They were the ones running alongside the bike as you tottered towards your first training wheel-less ride. They were the ones you beamed and waved at as you received your diploma. They were the first ones you called when you found out you were expecting their grandchild. They offered advice on banking, on savings, on investments, on house purchases. They gave you furniture, and linens. They doted. They supported. They offered whatever you needed. They were always there.
And then, suddenly, they weren't.
When my sister died, it was horrible, and unexpected. But in a twisted sort of a way, a little easier because she died in the States as a US citizen. I knew the steps I had to take to make arrangements. I knew who to call, and what to do. I knew the people to invite and notify. Though numb, I could still make my to-do list, and tick things off. There was an order to what had to be done.
In this case, my dad is a US citizen living abroad. (Rather ironically, we are stateside, which actually complicates the emergency visitation travel option we have as a FS family). While I speak the language of his country of residence, certainly not to the degree needed for one interacting with medical doctors or legal professionals. I don't know the customs for burial. I don't know the steps necessary for a funeral. I don't even know the proper method for death notifications or announcements. I am not sure of his current preference for his house and effects. I have no idea what to do with his puppy. I can't even guess what his log-on or password might be. I will have a week to go through his house, determine what to keep and what to donate, to pay off his bills, and investigate his local system. A week?! Clearly, I will also have to find someone to take care of the house until we can determine who he intended to leave it to. I know what he intended but ... did he write it all down? It's these details that I am getting hung up on. Important, sure, but ... perhaps easier to focus on these things rather than on the fact that he's passed and I am not going to be able to see him again.
I know my kids know my dad, but they didn't get to spend a lot of time with him. By the time they were born, my dad lived overseas already, as did we but on different continents. We kept in regular letter/e-mail-writing contact, but ... that's not the same thing as personal interactions. I mean, a letter conveys information without the added nuances of facial expressions and body language. My kids didn't really know what an amazing person my dad was. He could be really difficult, somewhat pig-headed and opinionated. But he always stuck to the high road, and would give those he loved the shirt off his back. He was opinionated, sure, but also well-read and well-informed. He could fix pretty much any electronic or mechanical gadget, and had the greenest thumb ever. He had the kindest heart, and would do anything for his family. He had a great curiosity, and loved to learn more.
When we are kids, we want nothing more than to not be like our parents. We see their faults (mostly though erroneously, and to an exaggerated degree). We rebel against what they stand for, do, or say. Once we reach maturity, we realize how wise they are, and we start to notice what of them we carry. My dad's love of yoga, I emulate. His green thumb and ability to grow any thing in soil, I try to replicate. His love of natural life, I try to embrace. Sure, I do his things my own way, but ... I learned a lot from him. As do we all from our parents. It's just easier to recognize all of this benefice after the fact, unfortunately.
I guess it's customary to flash through memories I have of my dad. Going camping in Grand Teton park; picking currants in the garden while he tilled nearby (an onerous task made somewhat more enjoyable listening to his whistling); dinner time orations (he really liked to monologue); the Sunday car repair sessions; hours spent helping him figure out which foods are 'stronger'; picking him up at the airport in DC, when he got to meet my youngest son; driving around the town to find a flat of wheat grass for him to take home; the herbs! Wow, the headstand lessons for the boys! Oh, that was a great afternoon, full of giggles. His kids and his grandkids gave him great joy. The memories I have of him are precious, mostly because now that is what I have. I can't make more, nor can my kids. Lessons like these - the value of quality time spent with family - reiterate one of the hardships of this FS life: we participate in extended family life in absentia. We are peripheral to what goes on with our relatives. In a way it is easier - what goes on with family is just recounted through email or phone calls. But on the other hand, it is sad that we don't fully participate in every day life. We come for visits, but that's not the same thing. A week here, a month there, ... it's not as though our extended families have the luxury of taking a month off from work to be with us. I am trying very hard not to dwell on how many chances we've had where we opted to travel elsewhere and not to see my dad. Hindsight is, of course, clear as a bell, but at the time? Italy seemed more inviting. Or Spain. Or Morocco. Darn it, why didn't I go? Even just a few more days with him ... mostly, I know why: because he would always be there, waiting. He would always be there because he was my dad and dads just always are there. Except now, he's not.
Don't take family for granted. Grab your chance to be with them. Take the time, make the effort. Yes, we know we will always be the ones who have to travel a little farther, but ... do it anyway. Death and taxes, they don't wait for next school break or home leave.