On 04 February 2012 I wrote as my status line on Facebook
“RIP Lionel Gerard Langevin 1932-2012
Beloved father, husband, uncle. Irascible old coot, poet, charmer.
We love you, Dad.”
It’s a sign of the times that I wrote that while still sitting in the room where he died. I wrote it using my phone, guiltily, but feeling like I needed to get the news out.
Don’t judge – my world had just tilted, altered forevermore, and I felt like sharing. It was, somehow, immediately important that I announce it, to mark it, do it in real time.
Thing is, I fell back on that urge for immediacy because I wasn’t sure what else to do. Dad’s death was a while coming, and near the end of it he was in ICU and we had all agreed there wouldn’t be any more life-saving measures. They shut off the machines, and we sat with him for a peaceful, quiet, half hour until he left us.
While we all had the time to said goodbye to him, it felt insufficient; how do you do that? It’s just so utterly and completely not enough but too much at the same time.
So, I’ve been saying goodbye in different ways, every day since, too. Maybe it will never be enough. I know that I feel the world is colored for me a bit differently now – things are often filtered through our loss of him. My siblings – alone with me now, orphans in the world – are impossibly more precious to me. My (step)mother, as dear to me as always but all of a sudden I worry more about losing her.I worry about her health, her stress.
I worry. It’s all about negotiating loss, right?
There was nothing we could do – and oh how we tried – nothing that could protect him from this happening. It was fast and it felt like it came out of nowhere, but at the same time I’d been dreading it, expecting it, for years.
I think I said my goodbyes to him many years ago when he first got sick – maybe we all did, in a way. Even though he was cancer free, it changed him. His death, then, took about 8 years. Eight long dry complicated and stupid years.
It upsets me a bit to think on that, but in the end, who the hell am I to judge? He lived his life – it was his. And if there’s one thing his funeral, and the days leading up to it showed me, it was that I had maybe forgotten how dense and varied was the substance of his life. The last few years, especially, were subdued and quiet and a little old-hennish in some ways, but even that isn’t an entirely clear picture. He had a long life (79 years) that was full of travel and hard work and success. He had people who loved him, who were charmed by him, and who he loved back, in his way.
He had a terrific funeral, surrounded by so very many friends and family. The roly poly irish priest made jokes, and we cried and laughed and were very proud of him. It was a privilege to see his fellow Knights of Columbus standing up for him, obviously moved and feeling the loss of him in their ranks.
My brave, composed, and wonderful sister read from Ecclesiastes 3:1-15 (to every thing there is a season… in my head those words are always in the voice of the Byrds and who knew, sitting and listening to that record in my sister’s room in 1977 that someday she would read it at his funeral?) The more I look at the words, the more I realize just how perfectly chosen were those readings – go back and look at them, as literature, you don’t have to be religious. They’re smart, and help those left behind.
As with my mother’s funeral, we sang Amazing Grace (which I always hear in Al Green’s voice). I can’t hear that song without tearing up, ever.
Dad’s indomitable wife, family on both sides, and his gracious and loving friends buoyed us with their boundless generosity and regard for him, and fed us such good food. My facebook status that day was
Thank you, everyone, for all of the sympathy and support. My dad was an amazing guy and had a full, rewarding life. His death continues the trend – his many wonderful friends and loving family are making this an oddly pleasant experience.
And it was – oddly pleasant, I mean. And that’s the way it should be.
Death is pretty final, and I know that when I’m crying it’s for me, for us – the people who are left behind. I hate that he died; I hate how he died. I hate how he lived his last years – lacking his natural charm, tired, without enough joy. He had lost his brother, then his sister just a few months ago… so much loss, again, to negotiate.
But that oddly pleasant funeral was useful – it made me remember the whole man. The man who married my mother when she was 16 (!), who worked as a tool and die man, who went to night school and worked hard, and saved his money. The man who rose high in the company his illiterate father had cleaned the floors of, who worked all over the world and grabbed it all with both hands. It made me think of the happy laughing man who went on bike rides with me, who held my hand, who was the one I called for when I fell. He was the guy who never let us win at monopoly, who took us to the races, who drove us up and down the Alps’ twisty mountain roads, with us screaming the whole way.
He was not a good driver.
He is the man who taught me that if you’re going to do it, do it right.
I thought of my divorced Catholic dad marrying his Quaker wife in a North Carolina synagogue, and saving everything from that day – including the speeding ticket he got on the way down to his Florida honeymoon.
He taught me about the beauty of compound interest, and of a good filing system. He taught me the power of reading, didn’t laugh when I told him every number has its own personality (called synesthesia btw), and never said a bad word about any of those awful boyfriends of mine that he met. All he ever asked was “is he catholic?” but he didn’t care about my answer, not really.
He showed me how big the world is, and how easily I could claim it, with some effort. He showed me that we were citizens of it, and that we had to be involved and responsible.
He especially taught me how important it is to be present in the lives of those who love you. It doesn’t matter how he taught me those lessons, only that I learned them.
My brother and sister and I talked about how we knew Dad was always there for us. That no matter what we did or said or how we tested it, he would always be there to help us out. It’s true, and I hope that my kids know that I am the same – no matter what, I am here to love them and help them and teach them.
No. Matter. What.
Loss is funny. One day I feel it like a cavity in my tooth – something to worry and poke at to feel the edges of the hurt. Other days it’s pretty gentle, and it feels natural and grief-less. It feels somehow normal. It took me years, literally years, to work through the crap I’d been carrying around about my mother after her death. Having always been a bit of a daddy’s girl I figured I was in for it now – but the opposite is true. Somehow in our fumbling, pretend-it’s-not-happening way, we must have made our peace. When he died it was so very sad, but it didn’t feel like unfinished business. It felt like my very-much-loved Pop died. What we’re left with is loss, not grief. It’s sad, but not sorrowful.
I dearly wish he were still alive and I’d like to have called him more this past year. I wish you all had known him – he was clever and charming and yes, an irascible old coot. I wish that I’d spent more time with him, I wish I’d been more generous of spirit with him – that I hadn’t been so hard on him in my heart of hearts. These disappointments of mine though are just ordinary regret, nothing that will scar.
His poetry he passed to my sister and his charm most definitely went to my brother. I hope that leaves me more than his “irascible coot-ishness”, but I must humbly admit to some of that in my makeup. I know there are more things in me that speak of him than I will ever know. I cherish them, will learn from them, and thank him.
This has been a year of loss. Mine, though bittersweet, is already a little more sweet than bitter. You were much loved, Pop. Rest in peace.
My previous post about G’pa Lee here.