Our Entries This Week

Note: There is very little about music in this entry; it is about memory

How do you measure the passing of a year? (No, this is not a Rent allusion)

In the past year, I became a father. I made countless ER visits. I made hundreds of phone calls. I send thundreds of emails. I know I drove 20,000 miles or more because odometers can’t lie. I ate at least 2500 calories a day. I ran 25-30 miles a week and slept less and less each month.

This year I became a father to a son; I watched my daughter learn to crawl, to walk and to say her first words. And I did it all one man short. This year I became a father and lost one.

Before my brother and I started this blog, but after we started planning it, our father died suddenly. His death, far too soon and completely unexpected, has brought our family to its knees. We have all dealt with it in different ways and the law of unintended consequences has reigned—my sister will have a child this spring; my wife and I had a second child sooner than we would have, my brother has sacrificed his life to be the good son and companion to our mom.

And we have all found ourselves losing it in different ways. I got the call from the Younger J at 3 AM. We had spoken the day before, I knew my father was sick, but we all thought it was minor, that he would be fine. When I woke my wife and told her, her sobs were the first thing that made me feel anything at all. She redefined grief-stricken for me; so wracked with emotion was she, that when she called her mother, she feared something had happened to me or our daughter.

I did not cry for 11 hours. My brother, sister and mother suspect that I am something of a robot, that I do not feel like normal men. The obverse is true: I have spent so much of my life fighting off tears that I have become a master of sublimation. At 3:01 AM I went into mission mode. I had to buy plane tickets, pack sufficient diapers, cancel classes, notify my wife’s employer and arrange for family members to come in from around the country.

I did not cry until I was 25,000 feet above the ground. The night before, we had been in the Emergency Room for one of my daughter’s many ear infections. (Yes, granddaughter and grandfather were in the hospital on the same night, 3000 miles apart.) My wife fell asleep as soon as we were seated on the plane, exhausted from grief. I rocked our daughter to sleep and put on my iPod. I pressed play. Jose Gonzalez’s album Veneer had been paused the day before. The stupid machine started at “Heartbeats”; I made it, maybe, 30 seconds into the song.


As I looked at my daughter and listened to the guitar intro, all I could think of was her loss, the man who had seen her on but two occasions and all the crazy stories she would never be a part of. It was then that I lost it. I was the man torn apart by sobs on the plane; I was huddled against the window, fogging the pane, waking the sleepers around me.

The week that followed gave me little time for tears. There were arrangements to be made, conversations to endure, bodies to see. I remember moments as sharply as the cold that winter: the hospital morgue, the funeral home, the church, the constant flow of visitors. I can’t really write about music from this week—even in my memory, the silence is overwhelming. Everything moves in clichéd slow-motion, the horror of a weeklong accident replayed every night for the past year.

When I returned home I found myself crying at unexpected times, but most often while alone. I called my brother from a wedding in Miami: I was standing in the courtyard, behind a fountain, pouring out tears while our friends danced behind me. Even months later I would lose control periodically: while running and listening to the Father’s Day episode of This American Life, the tears started streaming down my face. Anyone who drove by me in the early morning light would have seen a crazy man running and sobbing at the same time. I never stopped moving; I never slowed down. For one year, I have been barreling forward.

Our lives are eventually marked by the balance of life and death, by the measure of loss over time. Our years, marked only by birthdays and holidays when young, become decorated and scarred: a series of anniversaries of births, weddings, deaths, failures, successes—a long string of memories that cause one year to blend into the last.

This year I became a father and lost one. There is no balance to this; there is no solace in this. As the Greek poet Ibykos says, “there is no medicine to bring the dead back to life”. The little consolation is that they live inside us and even outside—the set of the lips on my infant son’s face.

This week my brother, sister and I will write about our father and music. For the next three days, we will remember him and ask others to join in, remembering him, or the passing of others like him. This, at the least, is the honor we owe to the dead.

9 comments on “Our Entries This Week

  1. tfitz says:

    powerful stuff–thanks for sharing it.

    • theelderj says:

      Thank you for reading. We weren’t quite sure if using the blog as ‘therapy’ was the right way to go, but it is the way we went. Who has a map for such things?

  2. professormortis says:

    As tfitz says, thanks for sharing. It is very brave of you all, and I look forward to reading it.

    The random moments when the loss fully hits you can be the worst. I’d be ashamed at crying during The Namesake if I didn’t have such a good reason. Of course, grief and loss is different for everyone, but I feel the same way about any hypothetical future children I’ll have: they’ll never know their grandfather, only the stories. To an extent my wife is in the same boat, but I am very happy that she at least met him once before he died.

    • theelderj says:

      The “namesake”? I completely understand that one (if only it were a little better of a movie…). Well, prof, you were there with us last year; I still can’t tell you how much it meant to us when you showed up. Both of our fathers were crazy/memorable men who went too soon.

      • professormortis says:

        With the Namesake it was specifically the scene where he goes into the morgue…my family decided I should go see my father before the wake and sent me to the hospital where I met, of all people, the guy who was our manager when we delivered papers (changed jobs-nice guy, but an odd place to run into someone you haven’t seen since you were 12 or 14 or something), who took me into a little room with my dad in it. Not really sure that was a helpful thing or not. So, we went to see that film at the Coolidge, we hit that scene and I’m done. I cried at Garden State too; a banner year for me weeping at shitty dramatic turns of comic actors, I guess.

        I can only say it was equally meaningful to me when you and S. showed up after my father’s funeral. It was great to get me away from everyone for a few hours and to be with very good friends as opposed to family and friends of my family. I didn’t leave a lot of roots in my hometown. It’s a terrible time but it’s good to know there are people that will be there for you.

        I didn’t get to know your father as well as I’d like to have, but I was glad I knew him at all. It helped me understand where you and the youngerj were coming from a bit better, and, quite frankly, he was just an entertaining guy to talk to. I appreciated how he always asked how my family (and I) was after my dad passed. I think this idea, each of you writing about it, is a beautiful thing; I hope you all get something from writing it.

  3. Moira says:

    Beautifully written. Your dad would be proud. I am keeping all of you in my thoughts today.

  4. Beautifully written! I have, truly, only fond memories of both your parents. Your dad was always full of such enthusiasm- for everything, it seemed. I can not imagine the feeling of your loss, especially juxtaposed with the gain of your children. Clearly you are doing all you can to handle it “as it comes”. Keep up the good work. It is entries like these that will allow your children to know him every bit as much as you want them to. My prayers are with all three of you siblings, and your families! There is no doubt he is proud of all three of you, as he should be!

  5. […] another year has past since the untimely death of our infuriating, irascible, inimitable, and beloved father. This year I did my best to be […]

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