Real Moments: The Speed of Time

“But I also learned that it’s possible to go on, no matter how impossible it seems, and that in time, the grief… lessens. It may not ever go away completely, but after a while it’s not overwhelming.”

September 27th was the last day I saw you alive. Well, alive alive. The last day that I saw you as yourself. We hugged on Field Street.

I remember how, a few days later, on October 1st, the day that you died, I was sitting on the hospital floor and holding your right hand, crying. I held it the same way I did when we went to church and it came time to say the Our Father. That was my favorite part of church. That and kneeling next to you in silent prayer after Communion. I always wondered if you were praying for your mother and brothers, who had preceded you in death. We prayed in different ways. I had always known that. I think I spent my time asking God for ridiculous things. But I did always remember to ask that my family and friends remain happy and healthy and safe and strong. I still ask for that, but I send out the same plea to the Universe now too. For safety.

Everyone was crying, that day in the hospital. Obviously. We knew why we were there. Well, I didn’t know until I showed up and Mom told me “it’s really bad” after I kept trying to make myself stop crying. I wanted to be brave, like the time I showed up at the hospital early in the morning before you went in for heart surgery. You weren’t supposed to go in that early. I thought I’d get some time to visit with you before Mom got there and you went in that afternoon. I didn’t tell anyone I was coming up that morning. I called Mom from the hallway outside your room and told her that they were taking you in. She told me I had to be brave and that I couldn’t get upset because it would make you upset to see me upset. You and I didn’t say much to each other, and I know that’s because we were both trying to be strong for the other. You didn’t want me to see that you were scared. I didn’t want you to see that I was scared.

That was the trained nurse in Mom, though. While I sat there on the hospital floor, holding your right hand, she kept saying nice things like how much we all loved you and how it was okay for you to pass on. I was angry at her for saying those things, at the time, because, to me, it wasn’t okay. But that is what Mom does. She’s trained in end of life care. She’s seen this dozens, if not hundreds, of times before. She knows that these are the things you’re supposed to say so someone will let go, and not linger and suffer any longer than they have to. That didn’t make it any easier for her to say those things to her own father, I’m sure. The actual nurse that day assured us that you were too sedated to feel anything.

I remember the sounds of your last breaths, though. It sounded to me like you were fighting it. Trying to tell us that you didn’t want to go. Or maybe it was just me who thought that. Maybe it was just me who hoped that. Hoped that you’d decide against the whole thing and talk to us, tell us to get you a Budweiser and get you the hell out of there. Maybe it was just me who thought that you were stronger than death. You were the strongest man I had ever known! If you didn’t want to die that day then surely you wouldn’t have.

I’m sure we were only there with you for minutes. I think it all happened so fast after I got there from school. But it also felt like hours? I sat on that floor, and I held your hand, and I cried, and I stared at our hands together, and I realized, for the first time ever, under those fluorescent lights, that your arm hairs had a burnt red in them. I had noticed the same coppery redness in my own long brown hair a few years earlier. I had always wondered where it came from.

From you, apparently. I got a lot of things from you. Those chronic purple bruises and swollen bags under our eyes? Quite a few of us got those. The gap between our two front teeth, mine, which Mom tried to fix with braces 13 years ago, slowly widening itself back out again? The way our left eyes squint smaller than our right, and the roundness in the apples of our cheeks, when we smile? I noticed these shared traits only this year, when looking back through some of my favorite pictures of you, and while aching over how much life you managed to pour through into the stillness of a photograph.

There are other, not looks-related things, too. Our lower back pain, which gets particularly bad when we drive for a while. But, oh, how we love to drive. Our contentment to sit quietly with those we hold most dear, because we’re comfortable in that. How we can’t turn away from any opportunity to break it down on the dance floor. Our need for crunchy textures in everything we eat, and something sweet to cap off every meal. The way people treat us like their nucleus sometimes. I struggle hard with that one, I don’t know how you did it. Our love of solitaire, which you must have taught me how to play. The happiness we find in small adventures. Our preference for car radios.

It’s been five years, Papa. I’ve learned that that’s the funny thing about the speed of time. Some days, I feel like it was only yesterday that I was sitting on that hospital floor. Some days, it feels like 20 years have passed. I still find myself wishing for more time with you, but that seems to lessen as time without you stretches on. Instead, I turn to those photographs. I look at little me and younger you and I wish to go back to those times, the ones spent together in such obvious ultimate happiness.

For a little while, I was worried that I was forgetting you. But, it’s not forgetting. It’s being my own person. It’s being alive and growing older and filling my mind with new years of people and memories and experiences. I know that now. You were so much of my life for so long, and now you aren’t. What I have left of you is everything that you’ve left in me, as me.

I think this might be it for us, Papa. At least, for a little while. I could write about you for lifetimes, and I’m sure that I will, but not around here. What’s ours is ours now. See you in the morning.


One rotation leads two another
Three trips ’round now, all four your mother
Make a five year window seem a little closer
Bring it on down, fly a little lower
Going six times now, and seven is getting closer
Eight my meals alone, I’m not over him
Nine comes round, so does ten
You’re my piece of heaven

Real Moments: Three Dreams

Editor’s Note: A significant gap of time exists between the day when this was intended to be published and the day that it actually was. Other family events were occurring around the intended date and it didn’t feel quite right for me to put this out there into the world. Months and months and months have gone by since, and here it is. Mostly for me, but a little for you. Entirely and always for him.


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“When I was a boy, after my mother died, I always tried hard to hold her in my mind as I was falling asleep so maybe I’d dream of her, only I never did. Or, rather, I dreamed of her constantly, only as absence, not presence: a breeze blowing through a just-vacated house, her handwriting on a notepad, the smell of her perfume, streets in strange lost towns where I knew she’d been walking only a moment before but had just vanished, a shadow moving away against a sunstruck wall.” – The Goldfinch

730 days without you, at the date. An eerie parallel to your age.

Dreaming of those who’ve left us behind feels very Shelleyesque, in a way. In dreams you never get the full picture of them all at once, like you do in life. Pieces get revealed bit by bit and some days I’m not sure which is which. Three already holds so much meaning for us. The number on the back of your jersey. My favorite for that very reason.

Three years since you left me. Three dreams where I got you back.


In the first, it was you and I in your car.

We were driving around the Island like we used to on any ordinary Saturday morning. You had that baggy fleece of yours zipped all the way up, the collar peeked out away from your neck. I can’t be sure if the weather was actually cold. Your calloused hands held on just barely to both sides of the steering wheel. A light grip. Every turn, I could hear the sound of your skin grating against it as you let the wheel correct itself. A beige, sweat-stained baseball cap rested comfortably on top of your head, little wisps of what remained of your dark hair combed neatly on either side. My left leg was crooked at the knee, tucked up under me in that comfortable way it always was when we drove together, resting against the middle console. The fabric of the seat was soft and warm from a sun I don’t think was actually shining. I can still feel that fabric, smell the pieces of bubble gum you kept in the cup holder, see the pill bottle full of quarters and the old green and metal tool you kept around for your hand cramps.

The skies were gray; there was a hurricane coming, but we weren’t particularly bothered. We were listening to music on the radio and looking for something, trying to find it before we had to turn home, before the storm came. I don’t remember what we were looking for. I sang along with the radio like I always did. Never self conscious. Just you and I in the car. Just you and I, like always. My most comfortable place on earth. We didn’t talk much, but I remember we were speaking words at one point when we were in a parking lot, that parking lot we’ve been to a thousand times. We discussed looking for what we were looking for, decided to go home without it, not really that disappointed. There was a feeling, a sense in the car that neither of us acknowledged. We were together. We felt safe together, we were always safe together. But the clouds made us worried for one another, each secretly wanting to turn home and thinking it was a good idea, if only for the safety of the other.

I woke grasping at the memory, scared and shocked and happy to finally see you again; the first time I got to see you again since you left.


In the second, you were a ghost.

Only Mom and I could see you, only we knew that you were there. It was a secret, she told me before you arrived. It was just for the three of us to know. We were up north somewhere, in New Hampshire I think. A friend’s dad had found me a job. It was something great and important, just like you had always wanted for me. It came with a house big enough for the whole family to come up and visit. It was near the forest. The air smelled crisp, the way you liked it. It felt like places we had all visited as a family before, those weekends away to our makeshift highlands. Everyone came to move me in. Aunts, uncles, cousins. They walked from room to room, commenting undecipherable dream comments. Undecipherable dream me nodded along to them, but only cared for seeing you. At one point Mom and I were on a loft, away from everyone else, standing there with you, the ghost you. You weren’t able to speak to us, but you could smile. You never stopped smiling. That was more than enough. I had you there, you were there. Everyone else had to leave and go back home, they’d come back to visit some time, but they’d leave. Mom told me that you were going to stay there with me, in that house near the forest. My secret, our secret. You would always stay. I’d have you back. But this time you were something different. And this time I knew.

I woke to confusion, displacement, mumbling words of comfort to ease myself back to sleep, to not think about it. The foreignness. Grasping to remember only the parts that meant you were there again.


In the third, it was terrible.

We, the family, had all taken a trip somewhere. There were trains, a lot of trains. I think we were in Massachusetts somehow, but it was different. Industrialized. There was a large station with an upstairs and a downstairs. Trains coming in and going out. A lot of different, compartmentalized terminals. We, the family, were there with you in the station, but it didn’t feel like we were there for only seeing you. It was all together. We were all there intentionally, together. There was some different purpose for why. Time went on with whatever we were doing together but then in the end we, the family, had to leave. Not you, the rest of us. You didn’t come. Turn by turn, everyone else took their time to bid you goodbye. It passed quickly. They all disappeared up the escalators, upstairs, to the platform where our train back home was set to arrive. One by one, they all disappeared up, away. Smiling and laughing. Happy to have spent the time together. We, you and I, were left. I knew. As soon as it was the two of us left there on that platform, I knew. No one knew anything before. Not even me. There was nothing to know, there was no feeling of something to know. It wasn’t until right then, that exact moment, just you and I together on that platform, me the last one left of we, the family.

I asked you to come with us. I was confused why everyone else was saying goodbye. The confusion hadn’t been there moments ago. It was sudden. We were all together, we were all going home. It was a realization, right then to me, that you weren’t. I asked you why you weren’t coming. I started to cry like I used to when I was little and someone made you leave me. Kindergarten. Vacations. Work. College. You said something to me, and oh how I wish I remembered what it was. It wasn’t many words. I think you were crying too. You wanted to come, but you knew that you couldn’t. I felt that I didn’t want to make you explain it to me, and I knew that you didn’t want to. Your eyes were different. They weren’t your eyes. They were filled with something I didn’t know, something beyond. I hadn’t noticed until just then. Maybe I hadn’t looked. Maybe the whole time it was there.

We stood there together a few moments longer, close enough for an awareness of your body, your physicality, to come through to me. I hadn’t felt that in so long. It felt so present. You felt so present. We were so close. We were there together and not like the other times, this time more. We were present. Knowing. A noise sounded from upstairs, calling for passengers to prepare for the arrival of the train. It was time for me to join we, the rest of the family. You couldn’t come. It ached you that you couldn’t come but it ached me just as bad. We knew we had no choice, almost as though we knew that I would either leave up the stairs or I would awaken. Either way, we would part. We finally embraced and I rushed away, joining the family upstairs, slinging an arm around my younger cousins as we boarded together for home, feeling something I didn’t understand how to feel, a whisper of having you back, this time more.

This one was the worst. This one felt just like the very last one. The one where I was the last one. The last one brought home to you. The last one left begging in my head at your bedside for you not to go, feeling equally like the traitor and the betrayed, while everyone else spoke words of encouragement and love. I held tightly to your hand and prayed selfishly to myself words I knew you could hear, words I knew you so desperately wanted to obey, words of pleading for you not to leave me.

I woke to the dark. This one there was no happiness at seeing you again, no confusion at your state of existence. This one I woke to our broken hearts, yours and mine.


I know that eventually you’ll come back to me again, in another land of my dreams. If soon to be once more, then all I ask is that next time you bring me your laugh.

Real Moments: On Remembrance

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“Oh you’ll take the high road and I’ll take the low road and I’ll be in Scotland ‘afore ye, but me and my true love will never meet again on the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.”


First and foremost, this is for you. Not for them. I don’t need  to tell you that I miss you, but I do need to say that I’m sorry. I’m sorry that some days I try not to remember you.

There are so many things that could be said about the so many days that have passed since you did. What I will say is that I remember the sound of your laugh, the feel of your calluses as we held hands in prayer. How you loved Bob Marley, which still makes me laugh out loud. McDonald’s Apple Pies will always be our treat, Budweiser our beer. Rod’s “Forever Young” the song we never got the chance to dance to at my wedding. Your nee-nee alien hands. How you let me practice parallel parking between your friends’ actual cars. The feel of the bristle on your cheek when I kissed you goodnight, every night. The sound of the radio you hummed along with in the old black and white tiled bathroom every morning before school. The sight of you waiting there, at the end of the train platform, every time I came home from college.

The point is, just because I say I try not to remember you, doesn’t mean that I don’t. And I know you know that. I know you know that it’s just because it’s so hard, and it hurts so much. But I’m sorry for it anyway.

Now, on to a few words for them. But I promise that the rest of this lifetime is for you, Papa.


In the beginning, there was sorrow. Every single day.

Then came repression of the unhealthiest emotional nature. Focus on school, Cass. Finish school. You’ll have time to grieve later. Later came and school was finished. No, not now. It’s back to home and back to work, definitely not now. Work harder. Read books, devour books. Put yourself utterly and completely into those books and pretend you are anywhere but here. Wait for Ireland, you’ll be alone to grieve in Ireland. Get to Ireland and what nonsense! Enjoy Ireland! Keep your spirits up because you’re mostly on your lonesome. Look for ways to grieve but feel unfulfilled in that, feel uncomfortable at the idea of anyone else catching on. Do not grieve in Ireland, wait until anywhere else. Keep reading.

Ireland passes, you’ve gotta go home now. Time to prepare for Scotland, oh how you’re dreading Scotland. His place, his home, your first time ever returning without him. Please don’t send me to Scotland, why are they sending you to Scotland? Why has everyone insisted that this is a good idea? That you, of all people, are the choice? Are you not the most unfair of choices? Whatever you do, absolutely do not grieve in Scotland. More books, bring more books. Lose yourself again. You’re not there, you’re not here, you’re in between the pages. Do not mourn yet. Soon. Later. There will be a time.

Return from Scotland, now get through graduation. You only did all of this for him anyways but he’s not here so don’t look up into those stands, no matter what you do – do not look into those stands. Sit by yourself. Stare at your hands. Make the walk, do not look up. Mourn later, after the ceremony and the pictures. Later comes back again and still not the time. Pack and get ready for the changing of lifestyles, the moving away. Start your new job, focus on that. Get down there and wait until everyone leaves. When you’re left on your own in this new place, with these new people, then you can give yourself over to grieving. Months pass in this new place, with these new people, and still nothing. Little bits and pieces here and there but no big confrontation. No realization. No hit.

The Day comes back. It’s one year later. Force yourself, you have to force yourself. You’ve become an absolute professional over the past twelve months, one of the elite class of people able to utterly repress that anything like this has ever happened to them. Not today, no one deserves that today. Not you, not him. Remember it all, every last detail.


And I miss the way he was whistling, walking down the street. And every time I do something I think of what he would say. “Well, it’s cold today, wear a scarf.” But lately, I’ve been forgetting little things. He’s sort of fading and I’m starting to forget him. And it’s like… like losing him again. […] And sometimes, not always but sometimes, I can actually see him. It’s as if a cloud moves away and there he is – I could almost touch him. But then the real world rushes in and he vanishes again.
 Before Midnight (2013)

A man was sitting next to me on a plane recently. The stewardess came around to ask if anyone wanted anything to drink and he, being polite, reached out to tap me on the arm. I looked down at his hand, the wrinkled leathery skin that stretched across his knuckles, and I felt as if all the oxygen had suddenly rushed to evacuate my body. That hand, it was his hand, it looked just like his hand. What I wouldn’t give to see that hand again. I still have a tough time looking at most old men that pass through my life on a daily basis. Their mannerisms, their baseball hats, their hands, the way they walk. They all remind me so much of what I had.

The past year has held so many lessons in remembrance for me. The biggest was probably my extreme fortune at encountering a family very similar to my own, in a distant emerald land, who had gone through their own loss of a beloved patriarch. I listened to their stories and their laughter, even offered up a few of my own every now and then. I thanked my stars for them every night, hardly realizing at the time that they were the first to arrive with the needle and thread to stitch me back together again.

Most of what I learned from them was that there is a way to talk about it. I still can’t have anyone bring it up to me, tell me what a great guy he was or how much they miss him. It has to be me, I have to tell the story or make the comment. I want so desperately to be like that family I met, to be the champion of all remembrance on behalf of our beloved Terry.

I spent a year repressing the tears and the thoughts and the memories. Something would happen, a catalyst if you will. I’d remember something or sometime and my chest would contract. The tears would start and I’d hold my breath, bite my tongue, blink up at the brightest light in the room, try desperately to calm myself. I got very good at that, the whole repression thing. I won’t say I didn’t encounter a few massive breaks along the way, because I did, but for the most part I was strictly composed. It got to the point where some nights I’d plan rare allowances, as if remembrance and mourning could be scheduled. I’d lay outside in the backyard of my childhood home or down the street next to the ocean, looking up at the sky and pouring a beer out into the waves surely like the kind of crazy person everyone already thought that I was. I’d pull out my favorite pictures and wish with every breath I had to rewind back to the moments they showed me. If only for one more hug, one more laugh, one more word.

I keep waiting, I’m still waiting, for it to just hit me. Last year I spoke about living within my little removal from reality. A year later and I feel like not much has changed. One of these days the gravity of it all will really register and I’ll just crumple to whatever ground I happen to be nearest to and I’ll sob and I’ll scream and I’ll clutch at the mud thinking that somehow that will fix things. Isn’t that what’s supposed to happen, when you really love someone? When you still feel like a child? You cry loud enough and eventually that’s the pain, that’s the release, it’s all over with. Is my inability to do that what it means to grow up, to learn that this is a part of life?

It’s okay to know that your heart will never heal. Time will not fix all wounds. It may make them bearable, but it may also fool you. There is a balance but I have not found it yet. I try, but there is guilt no matter which side I lean towards. My life is mine to live, and yet I feel I am forgetting him. All my time can be spent in remembrance, and yet too much of that will lead me to nothing else. My solution so far is this: if you begin to remember, remember. The good and the oh so terribly bad. When you have thoughts, think them. When the tears start, don’t stop them. Let your heart ache, let your chest feel like it’s caving. Sob as hard as you can and if you can’t then don’t grow frustrated at yourself because that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with a little repression. It’s when a little becomes a lot that you’ll get into trouble. Some day, you’ll let yourself remember. Until then take your time, take absolutely all of it.

As Alastair McDonald once said, “there is an old Celtic belief that when a man dies in a foreign land, his spirit returns via the low road,” a special road which the fairies take to carry him back to his home. To the man who raised me into the fantastical, life loving little sprite of a child that I am – I know that we’ll be meeting for many more adventures together on all sorts of roads. And until that day when we get to the last one, I will do all that I can to remember you.