Let Them In

I knew that all I really needed to get through yesterday’s ten year anniversary of my dad’s death was a little time to myself to remember my papa, support from my loved ones, and some amazing carbo-loading at an old school Italian restaurant in the evening.  What I didn’t consider is that when you let others in to your grieving process, invite them to share in your memories and your loss, you get a lot more than just a day of remembering.  So many people reached out to me in kind, creative ways throughout the day.  I asked Joel, “How is possible that people are this thoughtful?  I mean, why are they being so nice to me?”  and he answered, “Because you gave them the opportunity.”

I did not get any time to myself during the day, which, overall, was fine. My daughter was extra snuggly and even said, “Don’t be sad”, when I guess I was looking particularly pensive. We drove the half hour to the windy beach, where we sat up on a bluff and played in the sand. Olive doesn’t like the water, so she was, at first, really mad at me for taking her to the ocean. She started whining and flapping around, and all of a sudden I really wished I could be alone after all.

Olive, the flowers, and the sand — a good combination, as long as you don’t add water.

However, once she figured out that I was not going to make her go down to the water, she settled in on my lap and proceded with covering the both of us with sand. I thought about my dad, and about how his body, which I had loved with all its quirks and scars of the past, was now a part of this beautiful ocean, and was whipping all around us in the wind. I didn’t put the flowers I had bought for him (coxcomb, as my dad had a bit of the theatrical in the way he styled himself) in the water, but I did throw in a rock (which I let Olive choose) from the bluff.

The ocean, the coxcomb, and my feet.

On the way home, we got lost. Like my mother, I tend to get a little panicky when I am lost. My breathing shallows, and I start to think of all the things that could go wrong if I don’t find my way (I had intentionally left my phone behind, so I couldn’t call anyone to see where the heck I was). However, in that moment, I remembered that my dad LOVED being lost. He would cackle a mischevious laugh, and actually try to get more lost, rather than actively find his way back. He adored exploring new areas, and, the devil in him loved how much it would freak out the rest of us to be lost and late. He’d pump up the college radio that was already blaring, and we’d drive through neighborhoods we never knew existed. So, I told Olive, “We’re going on an adventure, Grandpa Frank style”, and we drove around the city, eventually finding our way back to the Mission, taking the long way home.

In the end, it was fine that I didn’t get any time to myself on the actual day, because the previous week, I had unintentionally had a date with my dead father. Part of The Artist’s Way is having weekly Artist’s Dates, where you do something alone that your artist self wants to do, whatever that may be. I decided to go to the movies by myself, a favorite pre-parenthood activity of mine. I chose an independent film at the arty farty theater in The Embarcadero, where Junior Mints are $5.00 but they chill them for you. As I settled in to my seat, I noticed that my dad had showed up and was joining me for the movie. I felt his presence, and marveled how when I get myself truly alone, dead loved ones always seem to join me, because there is space to notice their existence within me.

In a few short minutes, I figured out why my dad had chosen to join me for this particular flick. It was, as my sister, my mom and I took to calling such films, “A Daddy Movie”. This is the term we used to describe when a movie seems whimsical and beautiful and well acted and fabulously lit and it IS all those things… but it takes a turn, and suddenly is both very dark and very strange. I grew up going to art house films with my dad, so I am no stranger to such movies, but since I met my husband and he introduced me to the concept of going to the movies to be entertained, not just to “learn something” or “have an experience”, I haven’t seen many. Well, in this particular movie, it was about a little girl and her papa, who were very “us against the world!” tough as nails survivors. Except… the father got sick and died, leaving the little girl to face the world bravely on her own. “Really, Dad?”, I thought. “You needed to drive the point home. I get it, you’re dead, and yes I remember everything you taught me about being courageous in life!” It was pretty comical, but also left me in a really tender place.

The next day, during Morning Pages, the daily practice of writing three stream-of-consciousness pages that The Artist’s Way is based upon, I had the idea, which I mentioned in my last post, of asking folks who wanted to grieve and remember with me to go to a body of water and place in a flower or rock and say a little prayer for me.  I immediately shot down the notion, as it is sentimental and also very intimate.  How was this all going to turn out?  A big part of The Artist’s Way is trusting your intuition and saying “yes” to whims that sound absolutely crazy usually.  So, I posted the request to Facebook, and then asked my husband what he thought.  “Well, it’s lovely, I just hope people do it.”  We had to trust my instincts.

And I’m so glad I did — the pictures and reflections that people posted on my Facebook wall and sent to my phone yesterday were truly moving.  I felt so lifted up — like the kindness of others was floating me in a really difficult time in my life.  People I haven’t talked to face-to-face in years, that I grew up knowing and loving, took time out of their days to get to water, and send goodness my way in memory of my father.  Several others sent me fun remembrances of him, often things I hadn’t thought about in a long time, like the way my dad would yell their name when they walked in, answer the phone with impeccable manners (“Good evening.”), and hug me with a fierceness that was actually intimidating to witness.  Many people told me that by my sharing my story of losing my dad, they were thinking more about their own loved ones that they have lost, and creative ways to commemorate what they meant in their lives.

That night, to honor my dad’s love of Italian food, we hit up a very Godfather-esque ristorante in our neighborhood, called La Traviata.  I mean, one of the waiters, an older Italian man, actually joked about breaking our legs if we ever tried to use more than one card to pay again!  The walls were covered in framed photos of old opera stars, and the food was so out of this world that we kept ordering more.  At first, my husband Joel and I were just going to go alone to dinner.  A private time of remembering for the two of us felt right.  However, our mutual friend Joel Tarman asked me to considering inviting him along, and when I thought about it, that seemed nice, so I invited three other close friends.  We sat around and told Frank stories — bawdy, touching, gritty, fascinating and fun.  It was so different to share the experience rather than keep it just to myself, and one I would not have had had my friend not invited himself along!

Do you see any food left on that table? Nope, we ate it ALL.

The point I am making here is grief is something we consider very private, and there are times it really needs to be.  However, if you find yourself in the place to let others in to your loss, and you find creative ways to let them remember with you, you may be surprised at the results.  I feel closer to to my dad than ever by sharing his memory with others, and hearing their stories about people they’ve loved and lost as well.  I am bowled over by the kindness of others to be with me in my grief.  So, I suggest to you, let people in, if it feels right and your spirit moves you.  You may find, as I did, that people have more love to give than you thought possible.

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9 thoughts on “Let Them In

  1. Thank you for sharing your reflections about this important experience, Rhea. I feel touched and inspired by witnessing from a-far the intentional ways you live into your full identity as daughter, wife, mother, friend, artist, woman, and individual. You are beautiful. Your dad sounds like a big and wonderfully quirky soul who fills and lives on in you and all those he loved.

  2. What a beautiful way to spend the day Rhea. I’m so moved by your bravery to reach out and be vulnerable. I love you!!!

  3. Rhea, you always inspire me with your ability to find/connect/create a sense of community, always with a spirit of honesty and goodness. So lucky to know you and know your father through you.

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