When I was seventeen, my dad and I took an eight-hour car ride to San Francisco for the Western Regional Oireachtas. That’s an Irish dance competition, in case you didn’t know. Anyway, my mom was “too sick” to travel with us — as she had been for nearly three years at this point — so it was just my dad and I. We stayed at some fancy hotel where the competition was being held with a ridiculous per night rate. That meant we couldn’t afford to stay the extra night after the competition was over, so we ended up leaving San Fran at around 9p.m. That meant driving all night, after an exhausting day, with no stops.
After a few hours my dad was zoning out a bit. His eyes kept fluttering. He was nodding off in spite of his best efforts to stay awake. So I ended up just shouting at him and cranking the radio. We had the windows down, too. The icy coastal air helped.
At one point, we encountered some fog. It was sometime around 2 or 3 in the morning and the fog rolled in thick along PCH. My dad wasn’t falling asleep anymore; rather, struggling to see the road. He kept thinking he saw a wall in front of him, just on the other side of the fog.
“It’s weird,” he said. “Like it’s jumping out at me.” He had to resist the urge to slam on the brakes. There was no wall up ahead. Only fog and the endless, dark highway.
Grief is like that imaginary wall in the fog. I have moments where his death slams into me. Moments where I fully realize his absence, which will be a fact of my life from here on out. It’s a fact with soul-crushing weight. And yet, I don’t feel the impact. My body tenses as though it will slam into that wall in the fog, yet I emerge on the other side. Panicked and breathless, but still in one piece.
I keep waiting for some thought to halt me. To make me fully understand. To force me to bear the weight of his death. And yet I slip through. I drive along this highway, resisting the urge to slam on the brakes. I keep going because it’s night and there’s no place to stop other than home — and that’s a long way off yet.
Image source: Thomas Leth-Olsen