My Dad had a whole song about lunch, though it was extemporaneous and I can’t remember how it went. His world revolved around good food and he always saw it as his job to keep me well fed.
“You are what you eat after all!” “Don’t make me come down there!” he would bellow!
But he didn’t usually have to – since I always came up, Monday through Wednesday, each week to tutor my SAT students as part of my Mom’s family business. I had to get there in time for lunch.
Lunches with my Dad were always grand affairs. Five course meals in the middle of the day while most people were stuck at work. We would dine at fancy places with white linen napkins and large menus.
It almost felt illicit, like I shouldn’t be there … but as it turned out, those lunches were a gift that I will never get back, one that I miss greatly.
One of my favorite places to go was to The Orchid, a swanky Chinese restaurant in the basement of a building. We always had to go on Mondays, when the assistant manager, Eric, was there. He would take special care of us.
Like the bar in Cheers, my Dad loved to go where everyone knew his name. We’d sit in the darkened, half-empty restaurant and talk about everything from the mainstream to the obscure. He knew everything about everything: My go-to-guy. He’d talk with the accent of whatever the latest book on tape that was cued up in his car was in.
When the meal was over I so looked forward to the little blue and white porcelain dish with the two fortune cookies on it that the waiter would set down in front of us. We’d have to decide whose was whose and then we’d crack them open.
He was a character, full of presence and life, barely sick a day in his life. It was a complete shock when, at five months pregnant, I found out that my Dad needed an emergency triple heart bypass following a routine doctors appointment. He rebounded miraculously and was at the birth of my daughter. I had just seen him in December twice and I had just talked to him three times on the phone the day before.
I still don’t understand why he was taken from us. He died in his sleep on a Friday night. My Mother called me the next morning and had to make sure I wasn’t holding my seven month old daughter in my arms when she had to break the horrible news to me.
When I got the call, I fell to the floor and couldn’t stand back up. It took a few days to be able to do so. I didn’t know how I was going to be able to go to the funeral, let alone get up and speak! Somehow I managed to do it.
It took weeks before I could gather enough strength to leave the house. It was the winter of my discontent — the darkest and coldest days of my life, even though we never had any snow storms and it was record warm temperatures!
How could the world keep on going? How could life go on?
I had an infant who needed me, so I didn’t have the luxury of lying in bed under the covers all day, shutting out reality. I had to get up and keep going. I wanted time to stop, to allow me to process the magnitude of the loss.
How could he be here one moment and so vibrant and alive, and then gone so quickly and quietly? I could understand more if there was a long illness and I had some time to come to terms, but the rug was yanked out from under me. I needed to wrap my head around it all, but I was going round the clock with a baby to care for.
I turned to Google! I read websites, and blogs and memes. I studied up, like a good student. I am a tutor by trade, so I had to find a way to crack the code of sorrow and be able to get through this and help my brother and mother deal as well. I had to be able to understand my loss and pain. I feared that like an open wound in an awkward place, no band aid could fit and it would never close up – or it would get splinters stuck in it and scab over with them trapped inside forever.
I worried. I cried. I looked “up” a lot!
Just like with pregnancy, I learned that pretty much anything goes with grief. All this crazy stuff that seems so insane is actually normal?! I still don’t get that – but I’ll go with it! I felt a little more empowered with my new knowledge, but I still felt totally unprepared for this. This loss was so huge. I wasn’t aware that you end up with a broken heart with a piece missing in the shape of that person that can never be filled in.
I grappled with a lot of conflicting concepts. Time is the biggest enemy, yet I had NOTHING BUT time to bide. I was wishing it away. At the same time I felt so guilty that I was wishing away my daughter’s first year – moments that I could never get back. But I desperately needed the perspective that only time could offer. I was trying to solve the world’s problems laying flat on my back, which was very frustrating.
My lens had gotten cracked and the world seemed less real, yet I realized that you can’t go back to who you were, because you aren’t the same person you were before.
Other people who have not gone through it like to throw a pleasantry at you and hurry on their way before you can respond back. They don’t know what to tell you and they worry that the experience might be contagious. They say they are “in a better place” but I wonder, are they really? How could it be better if we aren’t together?
In obituaries they always list the surviving relatives, but I wonder have we really survived? I felt like my Dad took a bit of my sparkle with him when he left this earth. I was in so much emotional pain, but yet I knew that he wouldn’t want me to be so unhappy. I had no idea what a constant throbbing ache that grief was. It washes over you like waves on the shore.
The following winter we were waiting on the end for my grandmother. She died at the end of January and it whisked me right back down into the pit of despair. All the feelings that had haunted me the winter before had returned. All the demons that I couldn’t tame and the questions I didn’t have any answers to returned.
Most of all I was haunted by the fact that my Dad would be so mad at me for lying around with no energy and no desire to eat lunch. I knew I had to turn things around.
It was physically painful for me to get through each day. I sought out doctors and therapists, most of whom wanted to prescribe me anti-depressants and sent me for a battery of tests. With the same sheer determination that I possessed to give birth to my daughter with no medication (that was inspired by my Dad who had his chest cracked open and was on almost no pain meds), I decided that I didn’t want to start on anything.
I couldn’t chance the side effects and other impacts that would come along with pills. I found a new therapist who gave me some great coping skills and I am finally feeling like me again. This was a huge conundrum that doesn’t appear in any answer key in the back of the book (Only the odd numbered problems have answers in the back!).
It is a puzzle that I will have to work on for a long time. I have been helped along by my loving husband, who gives me a shoulder to cry on and an ear to listen, and my toddling daughter, who can always put a smile on my face, and my rock solid mother, who is handling it all with the style and grace of the strongest woman I am lucky to know.
The most important thing I have figured out is that I am going to go after my dreams and stop waiting on the sidelines while everyone else gets the things they want. I want to make my Dad proud. I want to write a book. When I told my Dad about that at one of our lunches he looked at me and said, “That sounds great! People would want to read that!”
I often wish I had some more tangible trinkets or things of my Dad to cherish and keep, or some more advice, but I have come to realize that he left me with all the advice I need.
To this day I believe that my Dad can still speak to me via those little slips of paper tucked inside of those cookies. Whenever I need a lift, or to hear his words, I go order an egg roll from my local take out joint, just so I can hear his voice leading me onward and upward.
Diana Waxman Freccia hails from Long Island, N.Y., but now lives in Wilmington, DE where she chases a toddler by day and tutors for the SAT by night. She is an aspiring writer and photographer and can empathize with the loss of an Uncle, Grandfather, Father and Grandmother.