happy birthday.

Today is my dad's birthday. He would have been 81.

I was thinking about whether it was still his birthday, whether I should say "Today was" or "Today used to be" but none of that made any sense. Besides, we still refer to February 22 as George Washington's birthday. So, today is my dad's birthday.

It's verbs that have been giving me the most trouble. Today is still his birthday, but he no longer is. He was.

I didn't talk to my dad every day, so it's easy to forget that I won't speak to him again, ever. It's like I'm just in between emails, and in a few days he'll forward me some random thing. He would forward all kinds of stuff, things he found funny or interesting. He used to forward me political emails, but he stopped when I emailed back about one that was particularly inflammatory. Sometimes, he would include me in the middle of a conversation he was having with someone else, which was disorienting. There was a year when I got football scores from my old high school every Saturday morning. Once, I got a summary of the minutes of the latest meeting at the Unitarian church in my hometown, a church I've never associated with in any way. There was no real reason for his forwards, other than he thought I might be interested. Sometimes he would include his own message along with the forward; many times part or all of it would be in all caps.

My dad used to forward me weird emails. This is what people mean when they talk about the finality of death. They mean no more weird email forwards.

It's hard is putting everything in the past tense and realizing that all the things I associate with him are over. I never thought about a person being over before. There were periods in his life that have been over. He taught school for decades and then he was retired for decades. So saying that he was a science teacher is not difficult, because he did not stop being when he stopped teaching. But now everything is stopped. Last month, I might have said "My dad loves seafood." Now: "My dad loved seafood." Not that he stopped loving seafood, he just stopped.

My dad worked and played hard. He was contrary and stubborn, honest and generous. My dad was a scholar. He cooked watery scrambled eggs. He liked to keep animals. My dad never admitted to being wrong. He gave out Klondike bars to visitors. My dad had big ideas. He loved to sing and he did it badly. He drank Miller Lite. He forwarded weird emails. He loved seafood.

I don't like to use euphemisms, like saying that my father "passed." I felt that way before, and I still do, but I understand a bit more why people shrink from the finality of the real word.

My dad died. He did not pass; he is past. Today is his birthday. He would have been 81.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I always stumble on how to say or ask if someone is still alive. Like if you run into someone you haven't seen in awhile and you want to ask if their parent, spouse, whomever is alive or dead.

Somehow saying "He died" feels more acceptable. Even saying "He died 5 years ago" feels okay.

But saying "He is dead" has more hard, jagged edges to it. I always thought it was the word "dead" but perhaps is the present tense verb with the word dead --- particularly troubling depending on eschatological views, I guess.