My father wasn't particularly good at life. But if I am being honest, I should also say that life wasn't always particularly good to him.
Within hours of his death, I plucked away at a eulogy for him. The words came, and I liked them enough to share with the immediate circle of folks who needed the finality of the announcement just as much as I did.
It has now been six weeks since he died, and I am expecting my third child in exactly six weeks from today. With so much that has happened in such a short amount of time, I find myself moving through a sense of enormous limbo--between an awareness of life and death for which there is a rawness and fluidity that escapes my vocabulary. In my quietest moments, my mind easily wanders into the infinity and permanence of my father's departure until a strong kick from his yet-to-be-born granddaughter returns me to the immediacy and simultaneity of loss, being alive, and bringing new life to bear, even through crushing sadness.
"I'm dancing very close to the edge of mental health break," I sobbed on the phone to my brother earlier this week. Pregnant, perpetually overworked, and fundamentally exhausted, I flew back across the world with my two very young children while my husband had to stay behind to work. Half way through the 24 hours of travel, we all developed norovirus. By the time we arrived in the USA, an attendant with a wheelchair escorted us through customs because I was too weak to walk off the plane to drag myself and two sick kids (and our not-American nanny) through yet another airport. The experience was a special layer of Dante's hell, which can only be reserved for enormously pregnant women who just watched their father die in the middle of 17,000 miles of global travel in a month's time. I fully succumbed to violently vomiting through one more airport and two more flights until my brother met us at the airport, handed me a bottle of coconut water, and tried not to appear visibly shaken by my children vomiting in their own car seats on the ride home. Two days later, I woke up with a serious eye infection from scratching the cornea in my right eye, likely from dehydration and illness in mid-flight. The physical pain and exhaustion of it all brought me into a very, very dark place. "Can I just completely go crazy now?," I sobbed...and sobbed...and sobbed.
"No, no you can't," he said calmly. "I mean, ok, you totally could, but you and I both know that you won't. You need to get yourself to the doctor and get some antibiotics for that infection."
We hung up. With my "good" eye, I googled an optometrist who saw patients on Sundays. I called, made an emergency appointment, left the kids with the nanny, and dragged myself out into the daylight. Unable to take pain meds due to my pregnancy, I was in so much agony from the infection that even the arch of my right foot felt like it was on fire. As I waited for the doctor to see me, I actively fantasized about calling my extremely concerned obstetrician and telling her that I was going to check myself into a mental health facility for the duration of my pregnancy, if only to get some much-need rest and relief because this...this...finally felt like it was too much to bear on top of everything else.
If eyes are a window to the soul, I couldn't help but wonder if the super serious ulcer on my cornea was a corollary portal into my pain? Could the emergency optometrist see this with her light and microscope? And further, all fantasies aside, I had to realistically ask myself, "What is it that I need to slow down and SEE?"
Day by day, the healing of my eye (and intestinal lining) has brought with it a significant and noteworthy return of my usual mental/emotional status quo. Despite having found myself at a place where I knew I could make the choice to totally and completely unravel and not be blamed one iota for having a mental break, I have also always made the choice to recognize and do the practical things needed to walk it on back. Having grown up knowing what a steaming hot nightmare it is to be raised by parents with their own array of mental health and depression battles, the one thing I recognize that I can't bring myself to do the same thing to my spouse or to my children. (Thanks, Mom and Dad.)
Day by day, as I begin moving away from the immediacy of my father's death and through the six week journey until baby #3 arrives, perhaps this makes for a good inflection point to take stock of what I have been missing and sort through some of the larger, metaphysical pain at hand.
Perhaps if there is one thing my father's recent death has given me, it is the renewed gift (and celebration) of sight...
Like I said, my father wasn't particularly good at life...but he was smart enough to count his blessings and soulful enough to instill in me the ability to do the same. It is enough to say that his life (and the way he navigated it) brought me an intimate understanding of the complexity of the human spirit and our ability to resiliently weather the storm into which we are sometimes thrown by fate, choice, and even plain, old dumb luck. Like, for example, being taken captive by norovirus in the middle of an international flight.
"You can't measure yourself by how many times you get knocked down," my dad liked to say in a time-honored butchering of a Rocky Balboa quote. "What matters more is that you always get back up."
G-d, I miss him.