It’s the most wonderful time of the year…except that it’s not because Rob’s been gone for 10 months today.
Me: This was a surprisingly rough month.
Lar: You ain’t kidding. I’ve been feeling especially raw these past few weeks, not quite as bad as it was in the early days, but worse than it’s been in the last couple of months. It sort of snuck up on me.
Me: What do you think is going on? Why does it hurt so much again?
Lar: It’s a number of things. Let’s start with the stupid holidays. We were a chair short on Thanksgiving, so I brought one down from the bedroom and placed it next to mine at the head of the table. A few seconds later, I just burst out crying. It came out of nowhere and I’m talking heavy sobbing when you can’t even catch your breath. Maura came over and hugged me and we cried in each other’s arms until she needed to check on the turkey. Happy fuckin’ Thanksgiving!
Me: That empty chair is heartbreaking and you needed to release your sadness before your guests arrived.
Lar: I guess so. Crying and gravy don’t mix.
Me: Makes it too salty.
Lar: Totally works with the mashed potatoes.
Me: Why else do you think you’ve been Kind of Blue by Miles Davis?
Lar: I’m not entirely sure, but it feels like another level of acceptance, a deeper level, a place where I haven’t been before. The closest I can come to explaining it is the terrified feeling that I have whenever I face my own mortality. Whenever I get to the realization of not being here anymore, the moment I go from being to nothingness, freaks me out like nothing else. It’s like an electric shiver that courses through my body, only now it’s about Rob. The reality of him not being alive has hit me in an intensely different way. All of my emotions about missing him and never seeing him again rose up to the surface all at once, and I’ve been walking around with a heightened awareness of his absence.
Me: It’s a good thing you started taking anti-depressants.
Lar: Yeah, I finally caved and I’m glad I did. As Rob’s death continued to sink in deeper and deeper, so did I! But now it feels like there’s some type of a floor that prevents me from going underneath it and tumbling back into that dark, bottomless pit.
Me: All the grief experts say that the holidays are the most difficult time for the bereaved.
Lar: I blame Christmas music! It’s relentless! This year, I’m only going to listen to the saddest songs: “Christmas Time Is Here” by Shawn Colvin and “River” by James Taylor.
Me: That’s what you’ve always listened to!
Lar: I know, but this year I’m really leaning into it. Christmas time is here…but Rob isn’t.
Me: I don’t think that’s how it…
Lar: It’s coming on Christmas, they’re cutting down trees, putting up reindeer, singing songs of joy and peace, Oh, I wish…Rob was still here.
Me: You know, this check-in thing is Rob’s favorite kind of story, but he also said that he didn’t like the really sad ones, so I thought of something that will cheer you up.
Lar: I have no idea what you’re talking about.
Me: You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I’m telling you why, Zach-ar-y is coming to town!
Lar: Ha! You’re right! I can’t wait to see him!
Me: Wait, I have another one. Zachy the snowman was a jolly happy soul…
Lar: Okay, I get it! You know, he asked me an interesting question the last time we spoke. He asked if I was going to be sad at Christmas.
Me: Because of last year when he and Rob were over at the house, and you guys had the happiest day, and that was the last time they were together?
Lar: All of the above. So I told him that I’ll probably be a little bit sad for a few minutes, but I can’t stay sad for too long because he’ll be here with me, and he always makes me happy. He’s my ray of light.
Me: He brings you joy.
Lar: He literally just did. He texted me a few minutes ago and said I should check out a Twitter account called @steelydance. It’s this genius idea of people (and sometimes cartoon characters) dancing to Steely Dan songs, and it’s perfectly synced up and brilliantly edited. I watched them all and couldn’t stop smiling! Zach said he had just stumbled upon it and knew that I’d like it.
Me: I’m so glad he’s going to be here with you. What are you guys gonna do?
Lar: Really just hang out. We’ll probably watch a bunch of basketball and football games, eat a lot of Rosner’s bagels, maybe go see a movie or two, listen to music, probably get high…you know, all the usual stuff.
Me: Add in a little more Vince Guaraldi and you’ll be all set. You know, you’re really right out of A Charlie Brown Christmas: “I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming, but I’m not happy.” Why aren’t you happy, Charlie Brown?
Lar: Go fuck yourself, Linus! Actually, I’ve been thinking about that and this is going to sound weird as hell—and Rob may not like this part so much—but a few stories that I wrote recently really hit me hard.
Me: It started with the one about you going to lunch with him.
Lar: It did. When I found myself tapping into his voice and imagined him still being here, I don’t know, it just made me so damn sad and made me miss him something awful.
Me: And then you doubled down by writing a letter to you from him.
Lar: That story really tore me up, but as painful as it was, I’m glad I wrote it. Some part of me thinks that it will ultimately lead to a place where I can make peace with him not being here.
Me: I agree. You’ve been putting in the work.
Lar: It’s funny that you say that. When I went to dinner with my grief group a few days ago, I pointed out how we were all laughing and having a pretty fun time (and sure, drinking certainly had something to do with it) and how that would’ve been impossible when we first met nine months ago. I attributed it to us “putting in the work,” and one father who lost his son to an overdose asked me what I meant by that. I explained that it’s about facing and feeling the pain and not being afraid of it. How you just have to move through it in your own time and in your own way.
Me: There are no shortcuts and you can’t avoid it.
Lar: I thought I could outsmart it or just go back to the first stage of grief and deny it, but the pain is very patient and lying there in wait. Avoiding it just prolongs the whole process of healing. You can’t hurry pain.
Me: Like you can’t hurry love.
Lar: And that’s what’s waiting for you once you get through it—you find love. Somehow, someway, I unconsciously swerved into the pain. That’s another reason why I write about Rob. I feel the pain every day, but I hope it will ultimately lead to feeling better.
Me: You just said the secret word and you win $100.
Lar: You know the name of that show, don’t you?
Me: Indeed I do—You Bet Your Life. And you’ve reached a milestone in yours today. It’s taken you 10 months to feel a glimmer of hope. Hope is everything. Hope, along with Zach, is the ray of light in the darkness.
Lar: Well, now I think Rob may like this story after all. I can almost hear him saying, “Hope is dope, Dad.” And that reminds me of one of my favorite poems by the one and only poet I have ever truly loved, Emily Dickinson. Here’s the famous first stanza:
“Hope” is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops–at all
Me: And that reminds me of the first line of the Esquire story about Rob: You were born a poet.
Lar: Thanks for reminding me, dude. Make that two poets I have truly loved.