I got punched today, real hard, in the stomach.
I was driving my car in town this morning when a teenager, about Andrew’s size and height, wearing a tie dye shirt like Andrew used to wear, hair just a tad too long like Andrew had his, and blue jeans with a few tears in them, rode right past me on a skateboard. He didn’t know me, but when he saw me watching him, he nodded and waived to me – just like Andrew would have. Just out of the kindness of his heart. And I had that deep empty feeling in my gut; another punch in the stomach that I was not ready for.
The week before that I was doing okay. Well, as okay as I ever am. Then Friday came, and although I was avoiding looking at it, I looked at my datebook and saw this entry for Friday evening – “8:00 Temple for Andrew’s kaddish.” And there it was again. Thud – that punch to the stomach that sent me sitting down and almost doubling over in pain. I knew it was coming all week, but there it was. Today was Friday and I was going to temple to say kaddish for my son – for my only boy. His name was read that evening, along with the other yahrzeits. The Rabbi paused for just a millisecond when he read Andrew’s name, i took a deep breath, and I felt that punch. I could barely utter the words of the prayer, and was so grateful for the few close friends who joined Dorothy and me that night, who picked up the slack and said the words that I could not.
It has been two years now. And i still get punched in the gut every so often – more often than I care for or that I can take. It is not as often as it used to be in the beginning, when it would be every day, sometimes a few times in a day. Out of the clear – whack. I would get that ever so painful punch deep in my gut that would bring tears to my eyes, prevent me from saying the words to finish a sentence, or just make me sit down and gather myself together and catch my breath. I read something recently about the waves of pain. As we get further along in our journey, the waves that were a hundred feet tall, and twenty feet apart, become thirty, forty, or fifty feet apart. Maybe every one of them is not a hundred feet tall. Maybe some of them are ninety, or eighty, or seventy feet tall. But they are always there. They keep coming in, one after another. Just like the punches.
As I said, the punches get further and further apart for me. Or maybe they are not that far apart, maybe I am just learning to accept them more. Maybe they are not as hard and concentrated as they once were. Or maybe I am just getting used to being beaten in the stomach. Whatever it is though, the punches are still there.
I know it is not just me. It is all of us. I see Dorothy gets punched as well – and that hurts me more than my own pain – knowing what she is going through. We were food shopping this past weekend, driving on Central Avenue, and I looked over to see her holding her gut, and tearing, and sobbing. There was nothing I could do; I don’t know what set it off. All I could do was just watch her pain, comfort her with a few soft words, and hope it would ease soon. Knowing that nothing I could say or do would really help much. It had to pass by itself. She had to accept it and deal with the pain in her own way – as she has done for the past two years.
Many years of karate lessons have taught me so many blocks to so many different punches – but the years never taught me about this kind of punch. The punch you never see coming; the punch that is brought on by your own memories and pain. You may learn how to block one of the punches once in great while or how to avoid one every now and then, but more often than not, they get through – straight to your gut, straight through to your inner soul.
As I tell other grieving fathers, and hear from others, the pain never goes away. The punches keep coming. You can expect that. But with time, a long time, they get further apart, less intense, and the pain gets lesser as well. I am only on this path for two years now, and I can tell there is a difference now, as I enter my third year. I have spoken to fathers who are five, six, or ten years into their journey of loss and they also say that the pain never goes away – ever. The gut wrenching punches are always there – our children as still gone. But you learn to deal with it more, you learn that every punch does not have to send you doubling over in pain. Every punch does not have to take your breath away, gasping for air. You learn to recover faster, and maybe you learn to be thankful for what you had.