I’m sitting on a train and listening against my will to an extremely inane conversation between two boomers who either haven’t seen each other in a long time and must recount their entire lives up to this point to the other, or are just always like this. It’s helpful, in a way, because today has been extremely difficult, and I can’t concentrate on how much pain I was in today anymore — instead I’m just focusing on these two people whose conversation sounds like what I assume two “Live Laugh Love” signs having a chat at a Home Goods sounds like.
Today is the one-year anniversary of my dad’s passing, and he would not be a fan of that first paragraph. He always tried to see the best in people, and had a saintlike patience that I don’t seem to have inherited from him. But this conversation is also helpful, because through how annoying I find it, I’m able to remember something about my father. It’s something I’ve been struggling with over the last year.
Too much has changed since March 6, 2019. Some of it has been amazing, like moving in with my truly wonderful and supportive girlfriend. Some of it has been challenging, and some of it has been tough. But through all of it, I’ve thought two things to myself: I wish my dad were here to talk about this, and I wish I could recall more about him. He feels like a memory, like a thing that was in my past, like that shoulder surgery I had when I was 16, or an old Thanksgiving dinner. I’ve struggged to keep him with me and I’ve felt immensely guilty about it.
Part of me just wishes he were still here to talk about quotidian things. About how bad the Mets were this year; how Chelsea have thrived under Frank Lampard’s leadership as best they can; how I’m a Nets fan now, even though he liked the Knicks; what he thought of the last Star Wars. I want to tell him about living with Kerry and ask him how he knew my mom was the one (though I guess it’s pretty obvious). I want to ask him what he thinks of the work I’ve been doing, or what he thinks of the spin classes I’ve started doing. He used to be really awkward on the phone sometimes — he’d pause for far, far too long, making it seem like the call had been dropped; he’d abruptly end calls when he’d run out of things to say, or foist you onto whoever was closest to him.
Writing this over the din of this inane conversation is helping me remember the man who was once voted by my school as the #1 team fan. (He made a point of riding with us on the school bus to away rugby matches to support me and the other 14 boys on the team, even though he hardly knew all the rules of the game.) He had a generosity of spirit that I find so hard to replicate. He had a wry, sardonic sense of humor that somehow squared with his deeply Christian values.
I remember his work ethic, his crooked smile, his weird turns of phrases, his terrible punctuation. I remember how he could sit in silence for hours, undisturbed and content. I remember how much he loved Van Morrison and garlic. I remember how he fought cancer for 11 years when he was given six months.
I had the unfortunate honor of attending two memorials today. My dad’s cousin, Father Brian Jordan, held a mass in his honor at the St. Francis of Assisi chapel right by Penn Station this afternoon, and then the family of my old executive editor at Quartz, Xana Antunes, held a memorial downtown at St. Paul’s Chapel. Xana passed away from pancreatic cancer in January, after fighting for three years. She and I spoke often about my dad and his fight with cancer, I think it gave her some optimism about her situation. And listening to all the tributes to her today, I was struck by how similar she and my dad really were. They lifted others up, and took whatever came their way in stride. Even in facing the end.
I managed to pretty much keep it together during Brian’s mass. His homily, about my dad’s selflessness, even in the face of such insurmountable challenges, was truly touching. Dozens of random New Yorkers who happened to be going to a noontime mass during Lent got to hear about my dad, and that was lovely to witness. But of hearing everything Xana went through, and then confronting old friends from Quartz after the service, I lost it. I walked out of the church where George Washington prayed before being inaugurated in tears, which mixed in with the newly pouring rain.
I guess what I’ve realized, while writing this, is that the trope that no one’s ever really gone as long as you remember them is true. I’ve felt so guilty that I’ve not been able to hold my dad with me in whatever I’m doing, but I’m starting to see that you see your past in your present. Everyone’s life is constantly reflecting and reexamining the experiences they’ve gone through as new ones crop up. In continuing to live, I can remember him better.
I’ve been told that grief is like waves in a storm. You’re standing at the water’s edge, and at first, 50-foot waves are hitting you every few seconds, and you cannot keep your bearings. Eventually, the storm begins to recede, and the waves aren’t quite as large or as frequent, although they do continue to come.
I’m somewhere well out at sea now, taken by the initial waves, and trying to stay afloat. So far, it’s been easiest to not think you’re stuck in the ocean, but rather to focus on where you’re going. My girlfriend, Kerry, has “Keep moving forward” tattooed on her left wrist, and I think it’s a very apt strategy for moving through these waves so as to not be consumed. But at the same time, I have to learn to live with the fact that my dad will slowly recede from my memory. He will obviously never disappear completely, but because our brains aren’t that great, I will lose more and more over time.
But as embarrassing as it is tearing up on the 6pm Acela to Boston over remembering how my dad used to refer to me as “my great boy,” I never want that to fade. Hopefully I won’t be too distracted by the other conversations going on.