One day last year, while my parents were vacationing, I ignored a leak from the bathroom on the second floor of their home. A day later, the leak exploded and drenched two walls of the kitchen downstairs. I developed a migraine rather promptly. When I told my father, he said, “Don’t worry. The walls can be fixed.”
I nearly cried from guilt and worry, and then he said, “If worrying could fix it, I’d encourage you to worry more.”
That was typical of my father’s gentle way of making things right. For all his harsh words and strict standards over the years, he’d always had a charming way of soothing something that seemed unbearable.
I recall the night Ginger, my pet hamster, died. I was ten years old, and we’d been out, shopping, perhaps, but when we returned, I remembered that I hadn’t fed my hamster that day.
I went into the basement, where I kept his cage, and found his furry body curled up in his favorite corner. He seemed asleep, but his back peaked with a rigidity I’d never seen before. I reached into the cage and grasped him gently, as usual, but his body was stiff and cold. I dropped him and screamed. My father heard the scream and started screaming himself. He thought I’d encountered a burglar or worse.
I ran upstairs and yelled, “Ginger is dead!” and then felt guilty for causing my father such a scare. He’d been watching TV in the living room.
I cried, and could not go to bed, so I sat on the sofa close to Papa. He put his arm around me, and told me about the night his father died. I don’t remember the details of the story, because I was so impressed with the fact that my father did not cry while he told it, even though I could see he was still sad after all those years.
I said to myself, “If Papa can bear the death of his father, I can bear the death of Ginger.” I also realized that someday I’d be in his position. Someday I’d have to bear my Papa’s death.
That thought caused me to cry again, nearly to the point of choking, and to snuggle into my father’s side as if to pin him there next to me forever. How would I be able to bear Papa’s death? My ten year old heart didn’t know.
I asked myself that question periodically over the next forty-seven years, and never learned the answer. My father died on March 9, 2008, at the age of eight-seven, and I still don’t know the answer. A part of me has died, but not the part that contained my father. That part lives in my heart and half my DNA. His spirit still speaks to me and to everyone else he touched, and there are many of us.
Now I worry that when I stop crying, he will die yet again. In the meantime, I will ask myself not to worry. If worrying could fix things, I’d encourage myself to worry more.