I don’t listen to songs like Coldplay’s Fix You anymore to motivate my tears to start flowing. I don’t click through picture after picture of my dad saved in our online files, trying to remember the exact sound of his laugh. I still miss him. I recently booked a flight to be with my mom during the anniversary of his death. I’m fully aware the loss etches deep, but I’m finding (what my mom and I call) my new normal.
I want to share something about his death I neglected to mention before. I want to tell you about those first few moments I arrived at the hospital and I want to do this because I think there’s an important lesson for writers in these minutes of disbelief and coming to terms with personal loss.
Sometimes sad people don’t always act sad.
My dad was hooked up to all kinds of machines in the hospital and my flight had landed last. My other sisters were in his room waiting (all but one, but that’s a whole other story for an entirely different time). I needed to say my good-bye. After thanking some wonderful family friends for picking me up from the airport and driving me to the hospital, I bolted for the entrance. I attempted to mentally erase the name they kept calling their GPS. I had a bone to pick with Bertha (or whatever her name was) because she’d steered us the long way.
My suitcase bumped awkwardly along behind me until I finally left it for the wonderful couple to bring in. My clothes were the last thing on my mind. I had to see my father, brain dead as he was.
As soon as the elevator door opened, I raced in the direction of his room. My mom and my oldest sister caught me in a hug after I walked through the glass doors to the ICU.
Just as I planned to break out in a sprint to my dad’s room, I got held up. We got held up.
A petite lady cornered us. My mom introduced me to this small, leprechaun wife. A member of her church…details…her husband…in the room next to my father…basic introduction kind of details…sunk in about as well as a bobber on the end of an inactive fishing line.
I ached to anchor all my attention on my dad. Here’s where I acted a little weird. I shifted my head from my mom to my sister, then back again to my mom and motioned to the leprechaun wife (who couldn’t have been any more mild-mannered and sweet, but also a great deal in my personal space).
Then I said the unthinkable.
I said, “Say hello to my little friend.” (And yes, I used the accent.)
I did. I did say that. And it sank in with her about as well as a bobber on the end of a fishing line. (She didn’t seem to register my comment—thank God!)
I like this memory. It distracts me from all the heart-wrenching stuff to follow. I like thinking about quoting Scarface to a dainty, dear member of my mom’s church. Not because I’m malicious or because I get my kicks from making inappropriate comments, but rather because I understand I didn’t know how to act any other way. I was in shock. And sometimes shock shows itself in odd ways, disguising itself as humor or sarcasm. I like the memory because it helped get me through the next few minutes—some of the hardest I’ve ever lived.
So writers, remember this when you write a sad scene. People will likely surprise you in their grief, their shock, and their reaction to tragedy.
Tears hide until they know it’s safe to come out. Until then Scarface might just make a mess of the place.
Can you think of a time when you or someone you know felt sad but a surprising emotion showed up instead?
*photo by flickr