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Susan Estrich
17 Sep 2014
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When my father died, so many years ago, my heart was broken. And then it got broken again. In the hours and days after his death, I was comforted by family and friends. But I couldn't help but notice who was missing, people I cared about, people I thought cared about me, who didn't call, didn't come, weren't there. Later, much later, I asked a few of those people why: Where had they been? Why didn't they come? And the answer was always the same.

They didn't know what to say. They didn't know what to do. So they didn't say anything. They didn't come.

Here is the truth. It isn't hard. It isn't scary. Death is not contagious. The answer is: Go. Say you are sorry. Tell a funny story. As my friend Jack used to say, 90 percent of life is just showing up. In hard times, it's probably closer to 99 percent.

It's easier, of course, when the person who died was very old, when they lived a good life, had the chance to follow their dreams and see their children and even their grandchildren grow up. Then you can say, it is God's will, the way of the world, a life well-lived. Then you can smile and say, look what they left behind, all the children who live on. Let's drink to him. Then you can say, if you're younger still, this is not about me.

My father died at 54. There were children, not grandchildren. My best friend died at 53. Her mother was still alive. Her oldest grandchild was a baby. God's will? I don't know.

I am sitting on a plane flying to my friend Tony Snow's wake. He was 53. He had a wife he loved, three children he adored. In a business that is full of snakes and sleazebags, of cheaters and charlatans, he was a sweetheart, a decent and honorable man who loved his family, his country and his work. Why him? Because his mother died of the same disease when she was 37? Bad genes is just not a good answer.

Here is what I know. You never stop missing the people you love.

It never gets "all better," the way the scrapes and bruises of childhood do, the way career disappointments and broken romances do. It never goes away. It just becomes part of your history.

It was my friend Patrick who told me that, after my father died. At a time when others were pulling away, he would sit with me. His brother had died when he was a kid. His family was ripped apart. And then time passed. Life went on. And his brother, and his brother's death, became part of his history, a scar and not a gaping wound.

After my father died, I was sad all the time. I worked and I cried. I looked at the world through tear-stained eyes. I took pills to sleep. I tried not to dream. I put one foot in front of another and tried my best not to fall. I would see people laughing, partying and having fun, and think, that will never be me. I will never be happy again.

And then one day, I realized I had gone a whole hour without reliving my father's final days, without feeling angry with every middle-aged man I saw. An hour became two. I started being able to remember my father as he had been when he was well, when he was truly alive and not lying in a hospital bed with tubes everywhere.

When I quit smoking for the last time, I thought about cigarettes all the time — when I had my first cup of coffee or my second, when I talked on the phone, when I got in the car or ordered a drink or finished dinner. And then I started getting used to doing all those things without my trusty Marlboro. I went an hour without thinking about smoking, and then two hours and then a whole day, and then I was an ex-smoker, someone who used to smoke and not someone who does.

Death is harder. I never stopped missing my dad. It never went away. The list of those I miss just keeps growing. But life goes on. I became who I am. Tony will live on in Jill and their children, and in all of us he touched with his kindness and decency. There should be more to say, but for now, that will do. I will be there. It is not so hard.

To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

COPYRIGHT 2008 CREATORS SYNDICATE INC.



Comments

9 Comments | Post Comment
Susan this was so touching and true. People need to know that a hug, a touch, a moment just to listen is what you do. Our society is so afraid of death and don't know how to deal with it. I was a hospice nurse for a few years and have taught my children that death is a part of life. I allowed my children to take care of the terminal and they were present when my father in law died. This helped them deal with death and they do well in moments when others are not so sure of themselves.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Kathaleen McCausland
Fri Jul 18, 2008 9:04 AM
I watched my father die in November of 2000. Since that time whenever I hear of someone's father passing, it all comes flooding back. I cannot attend a visitation or funeral of someone's father without breaking down and crying, even when I did not personally know the deceased. Susan, I think you will know what I mean when I say that since I was a little boy my father was always my hero, and it hurts all the more knowing that I never told hims so when I had the chance.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Randall Morgan
Fri Jul 18, 2008 11:27 AM
Regarding your column about the number of women in leadership positions made we think of our current selection of U.S. Supreme Court Justices with only one female representative. Women make up more than half our Nations population, and they should have equal representation with our Supreme Court. Women should be the only candidates considered for the next several replacements, don't you agree?
Comment: #3
Posted by: Marianne Jacobs
Mon Jul 21, 2008 11:51 AM
Susan

We are on differnnt sides of the isle but on the same side of the heart, you are truely a sentimental old heart ! thanks for your kind words to the Snow family!!see we are more alike than we think !!
Comment: #4
Posted by: kmccarthy
Mon Jul 21, 2008 6:20 PM
Dear Susan,
Thank you for your sensitive article. In my early years in the clergy, I was suprised that most funeral services for member congregants did not draw our entire congregation. I have since come to understand that it actually is indeed very hard for many people to attend funerals. I believe it is not just about "not knowing what to say." I suspect that funerals do open old wounds and remind us of our own threatening mortality. And while I continue to encourage people to "show up" at funerals and houses of mourning, I have slowly come (alas) to consider the fears of those who cannot... Your column may help all of us...
Once again, thanks for your words...
Rabbi Michael Herzbrun
Comment: #5
Posted by: mherzbrun
Tue Jul 22, 2008 8:27 AM
Dear Susan,
I just read your thoughtful, moving article, and was impressed, because it mirrors my same thoughts. My father passed when he was 60 years old; no sickness, no warning. He simply died in his sleep. Ever after I have been thankful that he didn't have to suffer, but it does not assuage the pain and shock of his untimely death. I watched Tony Snow dying each day right before our eyes as he tried so hard to do his work and act as normal as he could. I loved the man for his character, and his grace. And I too think about his wife and children. Thank you Susan. You showed the same grace in this piece. We all know that you and Tony did not share the same ideology, and that makes your article all the more meaningful. Death reminds us all of our own time left on this earth, and that is perhaps why people don't come around when somebody dies, or attend funerals. As the fellow wrote: "Each man's death diminishes me", and for whom the bell tolls. etc." My best to you, Vonnie Bates
Comment: #6
Posted by: gloria bates
Tue Jul 22, 2008 11:17 AM
I wish my father were half the man Tony Snow was.....I have always been jealous of guys who had good fathers. Screw fame and fortune, I needed a good father. Mine is a douche bag. I corrected the mistake with my two sons, but I still would appreciate a decent role model in my life.
Comment: #7
Posted by: paul graham
Tue Jul 22, 2008 8:30 PM
Dear Susan:
What a wonderful world it would be were reporters and analyzers as kind and generous as you and Tony; alas, they are not, and the world is demeaned by that fact. However, you made my day. Thank you. Juanito Verde
Comment: #8
Posted by: Juanito Verde
Wed Jul 23, 2008 7:57 AM
I lost my youngest son on October 7, 2000, at the age of 26, and I learned so much about what not to say and the courage to be there for others. No one wants to hear that their son is in a better place, that time will make it better, that they know just what you're feeling and that you are so lucky you still have one son. There are two things to say to someone who has lost a loved or friend--'my thoughts are with you' or ' 'your friend or loved one will be missed by many people because they made such an impact on others lives'. I also learned to have the courage to be a listener when the conversation was painful. Hold someones hand while they cry and listen, not give advice, to their anger, fears, doubts about the horror they are living through. One of my fears was that my son would be forgotten--there are five children named after him, the latest being my first grandchild. I started watching Fox News to watch Tony Snow--he will be missed. I don't always agree with your views but I know you will say what you think--more people should do that.
Comment: #9
Posted by: Mary Loomis
Sun Jul 27, 2008 11:11 AM
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