Monday, April 19, 2010

Death, Taxes, and Dancing

At the risk of starting a theme…

Today is the one year anniversary of my dad’s death. And though it is a struggle to write, I thought I shouldn’t let the date pass without at least marking it in someway. My father died suddenly of a massive heart attack that no one was expecting. One day I was tucked in my office finally getting down the last scenes of my manuscript, loving that I had the day to myself, and then the call. And then silence.

That is what death means to me: silence. Dark, unrelenting, frustrating, heartbreaking silence. Because they are gone and their voice, the conversations you might have with them, are gone. Silent.

The stink of it is that like the saying goes, death, like taxes, is certain. The sun will rise, the earth will turn, and we all will die. The thought of facing that silence again, to lose a friend, a family member, fills me with childlike terror. Which is probably not the best way to approach death, but it is the truth. Before my dad’s death, I had a nice philosophy going about death, how it was just the beginning, how we go on to a higher place. I still believe that, and yet, now I know the pain and the void of silence, and I know that death for the ones that stay behind isn’t very nice at all.

I thought I might write a tribute about my dad, tell you all about him, but that suddenly seems to hard, my mind can’t wrap around all that just now. Instead, I’m going to tell a story/incident involving my son that my dad would have loved to hear –would have regaled to his friends if he had been there to witness it.

On Friday, my son’s preschool had International Day, one of those school celebrations to honor diversity in which the teacher and parents get really into and the kids walk around blinking in mass confusion. As with such grownup driven events, the little preschoolers put on a performance. My son’s class –the AM three-year-olds- preformed a Bollywood style dance to music from Slumdog Millionare. Yeah.

So there we were, my husband and I with the camcorder at the ready. And my little son comes out with his class. Twenty three-year-olds dressed alike, all with a jaunty bandana tied around their heads. As he is forced out onto the stage my son’s delicate little features begin to crumple, that tiny lip pulls out and quivers. Oh boy. Mother bear anxiety floods me, but I’m ten rows back. He is sobbing now, quietly, standing there with the tears streaming, his little chest working as the music begins to play and twenty kids start shaking their hips.

I make eye contact, nod, ‘It’s okay, little man. Mommy is here.’ Still crying, he shakes his head. No, mommy, it is NOT okay. But then something happens. He dances. Yes, he is still crying. Sobbing in fact, but those little hands sway to the music, his hips swing back and forth. He is doing it. He is breaking apart on the inside, but by God, that boy is dancing.

It was excruciating to watch. Watch him sob, suck in jerky gulps of air while he spun, bump hips with his partner, did some sort of weird version of the Macarena, and yet I was in awe. Here was my son, three years old, terrified and undone, but going on with the show. Would I have been able to do that? Or would I have run away in the face of my fears?

Fear is an insidious thing. It can sneak up on you, rule your life before you even realize that it has. Fear of failure, fear of death, whatever the fear is, hiding from it won’t make it go away. It only gets bigger.

As a writer who wants to be published, there is a lot to fear. Rejection, putting yourself out there, going on when your ego is battered, these are things almost every writer will face. How we choose to face them is what will define us. Are you going to hide? Quit? Make excuses? Blame others? The market? The list goes on and on.

Or are you going to go out there, swing your hips, and just do it?

Me? I’ve got a three year old to live up to. And though my dad is gone, there is one thing he did when he was here –live. Live life to the fullest. I can’t do less.


Herbert A. Callihan

August 16, 1933 - April 19, 2009

Half of what I am I owe to you


  1. Kristen, I'm thinking of you today, mate.
    And your little boy is just marvelous.
    Hugs to you.

  2. *HUGS* to you, Kristen...and your little man. Sounds like he's made of some pretty good stock. Remember he owes that to YOU.

    Thank you for sharing your story.

  3. Ah, Kristen. I had a few tears reading this. Your little dude is his mother's son- an amazing person, and a real trooper.

    I remember the day your dad passed all too well, and I know what this anniversary must be doing to you. So, let me add my hugs and say this: your dad, like your son, would be so proud of you for all you've achieved in the last year. You're an inspiration to all of us.

  4. Hugs to you and your boy Kristen.
    If only I had his courage when up in front of crowds...