Last year, I went to the Cincinnati Entertainment Awards with a friend I’ll call Jimmy. This year, on the night of the same event, I went to his funeral.
His death was traumatic and shockingly tragic to many. I feel for his family. I feel for his roommate and best friend, a sweet, pale woman who picked out the clothes he wore at rest in the open casket.
Loss. Loss has been on my mind. And the severe effects of illness, stigma and drug and alcohol addiction. But I have also thought of the living — the friends and family that supported me when I lost an old boyfriend due to illness and an overdose in 2007.
And I thought of a close friend I’ll call Rachel. Last year, I watched her struggle with trying to contact her biological father. He left when she was a baby. Her mom remarried when Rachel was 5. She had no recollection of her dad. Other than a few pictures, no visuals.
She wanted to share her experience, straight up, to help others who were searching for lost parents. Over the years, Rachel briefly talked to her dad on the phone. Three times. Once, at 16, she called him from a drug/alcohol treatment center.
“He said that he tried to see me, that he fought to get custody, and that my grandparents kept him away,” she said. “I’d been raised believing one thing, and he told me something else. That made me torn inside.”
Young and full of newly sober emotions, she thought, “I’d always been told I went after certain men because I had a father complex, so I thought that if I nipped this in the bud, I’d no longer be broken.”
But she stopped talking to him; the emotion was too overwhelming, considering her close relationship with her stepfather.
I thought about my dad. We both drink Diet Mountain Dew. We have the same thick hair. Together, we wander through bookstores, losing track of time.
He’s the witty master at telling jokes with a straight face, delivering subtle, sarcastic, inside wise cracks, often blaming the ruckus on someone else.
And his serious side — like me, he’s independent. Alone time is key. Rather than argue, we deliver killer silent treatments, but he always picks up the phone when I call. No, it wasn’t always like this. But it has been for years. I can’t imagine my life without him there. I can’t imagine what it must be like for Rachel.
When she was 27, Rachel talked to her dad again.
“I knew I wanted to talk to him before he died, even though I had no idea anything was wrong,” she said.
They e-mailed, discussing where to meet, often disagreeing. He was remarried.
“His wife was dying of cancer,” she said. “We were gonna give it some time, let things settle. I think both of us were having an emotional upheaval. I think I had this spiritual father idea. I realized that he was a cab driver, and he worked three or four jobs just to get by.”
Strangely, over the holidays last year, she hadn’t received an e-mail from him for a while. She contacted one of her half-brothers on the Internet. He responded, “Yes, I am his son, but he died on Halloween.” Ironically, she later found out that her dad had died due to drug abuse.
Although many questions remained, Rachel said, “I wish I would’ve been able to meet him face to face, to see him and experience him physically, but I don’t think it would’ve been all sunshine. I think it would’ve been awkward and uncomfortable, and I don’t know where it would’ve gone. I thought it might be this fairy tale, and it’s been very different.”
In my life, there have been times when I’ve focused all of my attention and hopes on one person — maybe a boyfriend, maybe a friend, maybe a teacher. In reality, it seems that we all need many people, rather than one source of human contact and comfort, for varying reasons. We need each other. We need many.
“It’s all been blurred,” Rachel said. “I’ve seen the truth. We are all so flawed. He was just a human, too. I could’ve passed him on the street, and I wouldn’t have known. I think that if I got to know him, I would better know myself, but I really think that that’s my job.”
When loss, when shock hits, what heals us? Feeling it? Time?
Rachel said, “I can’t say that when I’m 70 years old, I won’t be like, ‘Man, it would’ve been nice to meet him.’ I think at every time in my life, I will be reminded. It won’t ever go away.”
Rachel and I often talk about how we’re grateful to be sober. Recovery is a true miracle. Loss is hard, but I know that in my life the experience of it has also brought intense love, the love of those who supported me through it — people like Rachel and my dad. True, we are all just human. But we also possess the divine gift of giving.
My friend Jimmy was a Leo who secretly craved attention, like me. He had wide set eyes and small lips, like me. We interrupted each other when we discussed music. He had a thing for creation and the American Northwest, like me.
Jimmy, lately I’ve been so caught up, but right here, right now, I suddenly feel so awake. And I have a feeling you’re in some vast sky, gliding like a swift, white bird, embracing the wind, hearing beautiful music. Always rising. Peace.
CONTACT C.A. MACCONNELL: firstname.lastname@example.org