Dad in Church
Read on Minnesota Public Radio
By Nanci Olesen
I have a brown paper grocery bag. I carry
it with me at all times. Whenever I don’t
want people to see me crying, I just put
it over my head. I have cut two eyeholes
so that I can see where I’m going.
My dad died about 6 months ago, which was
really a moment ago. It was 10 days from
diagnosis to death. We were with him all
those days, my brother, my sister, my mom
and I. Our families and spouses and cousins
were there too. We sang and prayed and talked
and joked and finally we said goodbye, late
one evening in June.
And now it’s the damn holidays. There’s
no getting around these days without my
bag. As a waitress, I approach a table.
A healthy looking gentleman in his mid-seventies
is sitting there with his wife. They have
just finished some Christmas shopping and
are going to have a nice lunch before they
attend their grandaughter’s holiday
concert. I quickly put on my bag, so that
they won’t have to bear my grief while
I tell them the soup of the day.
My children are in a play. It is opening
night and I am going to go with my mom.
I cut some eyeholes in a grocery bag for
her so that we can be safe and sound as
we mingle with all our friends in the lobby.
Everyone knows we are without Dad.
Everyone can hear his laughter and comments
and see him, radiant, as he works the room.
So to see us arrive without him, well, it’s
just better for us to wear our bags.
Sometimes I get brave and take my bag off
and walk around as if I understood that
death is death and life is life and even
though it’s sad it’s all really
normal and natural and I’m working
through it and wasn’t he such a great
guy and weren’t we lucky he didn’t
suffer much? I have a newsy little chat
with someone and for all the world you would
think I was just in the good old everyday.
Then BLAM: a phrase, a lyric, a scent, and
off I go. My bag!! Where’s my bag?
Dang it! So I excuse myself to go to the
bathroom or to get something in my car.
I have myself a good cry. I usually figure
out how to leave without anyone noticing
People tell me that the holidays are really
hard that first year. They say that it gets
better. I listen, and as I listen, I grab
my bag and put it on. I say thank you. I
give them a quick hug. Inside my bag, my
face is streaked with tears and my forehead
is all wrinkly and my mouth won’t
go UP at the sides the way it used to. The
Christmas lights blur in my vision and I
navigate myself out of the room and out into the snowy night. When I am by myself,
I take off the bag. I breathe deeply and
look up at the stars. I let my face be however
it wants. I smile, or laugh or cry. My heart
is caught in the middle of my throat. I
walk home, with my bag tucked under my arm.
producer and host, MOMbo: 1990-2007