The Joke, The Tense, The Stare
I’ve given more thought to a psychiatrist, whose work I’ve always admired, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. I’d like to add three stages of recovery to her five stages of grief.
My father-in-law just died. Phoebe’s father, Mario Cirio, died peacefully in his sleep. He was 93. I am not being clichéd, as one often is at these times, when I say that Mario was one of the kindest, gentlest and generous men I’ve ever known. I am deeply saddened by the loss, but profoundly grateful for the ways in which he enriched our lives.
That said, in the short term, it’s anti-climatic. He left his body to St. Louis University’s medical school. There will be a memorial service in the near future, but there is no funeral to arrange. There’s no hurry about the obit. We’ve notified family, friends. There’s paperwork. But no drama. Mostly it’s just us, the sadness, and Phoebe’s three stages of recovery.
The first stage is the first joke. Two or so days after Mario’s death, I said to my beloved, “Jesus, Phoebe, your whole life has turned into a Tammy Wynette song. Your mother died less than a year ago. Then your father died. You just had major surgery, with a shoulder replacement to come next month. You have bad teeth. You’re just lucky you don’t have a dog to die, or a pick-up truck to break-down.” For the first time in days, she laughed.
The second stage is the change of tense. It is that simple moment. “I wonder if Dad is – I mean was, was – I wonder if Dad was…”
The third stage is even simpler than the second. As we drive home from the bank, as we feed the birds in the yard, as we fold the laundry, my wife grows quiet. And simply stares into the distance. I wait. I don’t need to ask.