Saturday, May 14, 2011

I am Remarkably Slow on the Uptake

I choked up at the frozen food aisle when I was shopping tonight. I haven't cried in a grocery store in a very long time, but tonight I did. It was the frozen dinners.

My dad's been dead almost ten years now, but I guess even when you think you're done grieving, you're not. There's still lingering regret to deal with.

It was a rough time, my dad's illness. His actual illness was fairly merciful, for cancer. After seeing what my mom had gone through just a little over a year before, we were both grateful that dad wasn't in pain, wasn't terrified, just slowly dwindled until he drifted away altogether.

We were both still in shock over Mom, and I think he took some strange comfort in the thought that he wouldn't be apart from her long. I didn't have that - I knew I'd be left to deal with it all in a way I just couldn't deal with it as it happened. There was too much to do.

I was working full time, my kids were teenagers, I was an only child - there were no brothers or sisters to call on for help. So I raced through the days like a robot, trying to do everything that was needed and keep a brave face on for everyone. I did a lousy job, I know now, but I tried really hard.

Each night, before making dinner for the family, I walked across the driveway to Dad's apartment and made him dinner. I sat with him while he ate it and we chatted. I was the only company he had all day unless you count the nurses as he got sicker. He really looked forward to me stopping by on my lunch hour and spending a half an hour or maybe an hour in the evening. I didn't mind, either.

But I didn't really cook. I guess I did a few nights a week, but today in that freezer aisle I remember how he'd ask me to get a particular brand of frozen dinner because he really liked it. He'd ask for them a few times every week.

What he liked was knowing that it wouldn't taste bad and I wouldn't have to cook it. He knew I was running on empty. And today was the first time I realized it.

We didn't get along at all when I was growing up, my dad and I. I think maybe we were too much alike in all the worst possible ways - insecurity,sensitivity, neuroses. I didn't want to be like him. I wanted to be like my mom.

All the defenses dropped at the end for both of us, and we liked each other a lot. And I'm sorry, so sorry, now, that I wasn't able to make him amazing, tasty meals every single night.

But I was so lucky. The night before he died I had the chance to ask him, "Did I do alright, Dad?" And he said in the strong voice I hadn't heard in a long time, "You did great." I guess he knew I did the best I could.

I just wish I could have done better. He was a good man.