Anger is a step, right, a phase? I know that the phases of grief aren’t linear, but today I find myself tapping the keys on the ol’ anger piano, kind of like Tom Hanks in Big…
I’m angry at the people who haven’t written to me to say that they’re sorry for the loss of my dad, I’m angry at the people who I’ve done favors for who haven’t written to say thank you, I’m angry at the fact that both of my children and I have gotten sick this month, and that we finally have childcare again, but I’m still unable to get any work done because of aforementioned sickness. I’m angry at people who say hello and tell me how excited they are for my new bookstore — sweet, well-meaning, book-loving people! Who obviously have no idea that my father just died and that I’m incapable of being excited about anything!
Pretty much the only people I’m not angry at are my booksellers, my husband, my mom, my children, and the four people who write me every day or so. I’m even angry at my cats for not being my beloved deceased cat, Killer, who slept on my neck every night. My cats are very good cats, they’re not just the best cats. Listen, I had to skip therapy today to pick up a sick kid, so apologies, I know this is not why you’re reading, to hear me malign my felines.
Today, when I took my sick kid to the doctor, the doctor and nurse told us over and over how funny we were, and how happy they were to have us, and I just thought, that is us — that is my kid, and me, and my dad, always always being the best patient, warm and charming to everyone, even when we feel terrible.
That was a good feeling — seeing the straight line between my dad and me and my children, but then someone sent me this poem (shout out to Sarah, not sure if you want credit or not, so I will not give your last name, but she’s Fancy and Literary, people), and it made me mad, too, in the I’m-mad-my-dad-died way. I was glad she sent the poem, and I cried.
by John Updike
And another regrettable thing about death
is the ceasing of your own brand of magic,
which took a whole life to develop and market —
the quips, the witticisms, the slant
adjusted to a few, those loved ones nearest
the lip of the stage, their soft faces blanched
in the footlight glow, their laughter close to tears,
their tears confused with their diamond earrings,
their warm pooled breath in and out with your heartbeat,
their response and your performance twinned.
The jokes over the phone. The memories packed
in the rapid-access file. The whole act.
Who will do it again? That’s it: no one;
imitators and descendants aren’t the same.
Like, what the fuck, my brilliant, hilarious dad was irreplaceable, and I’m mad. I just cried again after pasting it in here.
I’ve been listening, slowly, to Anderson Cooper’s podcast about grief and cleaning out his mother’s apartment a few years after she died. If you’d asked me before I started listening if I had any particular thoughts about Anderson Cooper, I would have said no, but now I would say, Anderson is my brother, and I love him.
It’s so weird, grief. People keep welcoming me into the Dead Dad Club, or the dead parent club, or the worst club in the world, and I do think that in some ways, we’re all in the same club, but I also feel aware of how many different cliques there are, like Cher giving Tai a tour of the school campus in Clueless — the people who idolized their parent, the people who were still children when their parent died, the people who had unhappy, complicated relationships, the people who were estranged, the people who were surprised. I’m in so many different categories — the daughter category, the writer category, the lived-five-blocks-away-on-purpose category, the over share-r category, the optimist category, the parenting-to-small-children category.
We just hired a new babysitter, and she and the kids played a very good drawing game the other day, and when they were showing us their perfect masterpieces, many of them involved death, and she checked in, asking, Is this okay? Is this okay in this household? (Yes.) And that too made me think of my dad.
Not just because, yes, we’ve had this recent death and so it’s on our minds, but also that he wrote scary fucking books, and was always telling scary stories, and my parents’ house has always been full of monstrous-looking things, but also ALSO, and this is the most important part, the part I’m still trying to reckon with, because he always understood that the bad, scary, dark parts of life were integral. To ignore those parts, to skate over them on the smooth surface of life, meant that you weren’t actually paying attention, or that you’d been extraordinarily lucky, and that you just didn’t see the patch of rough ice ahead.
Right now, I’m trying to pay attention to these dark corners, these unfamiliar rooms. I feel a bit like I’m trying to find a light switch in a room that my father occupied for much of his life, a room I’d never been in before. How many metaphors fit in one paragraph? A lot.
I feel less mad now. Thank you for reading.
Emma Straub is a New York Times bestselling author. Her newest book, This Time Tomorrow, is an autobiographic time travel novel that follows her and her dad living in the Upper West Side in the ’90s. She’s also the co-owner of Books Are Magic bookstores. You can subscribe to her newsletter, if you’d like.
P.S. Emma’s house tour and how to write a condolence note.
(Photo courtesy of Emma Straub. This essay first appeared in her wonderful newsletter and is republished with permission.)