While in Phnom Penh, I left a wonderful Italian restaurant where I devoured an amazing pizza – the first one I have had in over a year. It was as good as I remembered and I tucked my new 2014 can't-live-without-notebook into my backpack and proceeded to leisurely make my way back to my guesthouse. It has been a weird day for me, I've been stumbling a lot and spilling things (more than usual!) on myself, but mostly it's weird because whenever I passed a dog (and there are plenty all around the city) I got a scared sort of chill run up my spine. I love dogs; I’m not scared of them! These dogs are pets and harmless; some even looking for a bit of attention, but I couldn’t bring myself to even look at them. This evening, when it happened once again and I shied away from a cute little Benji dog, I shook my head in bewilderment. “What the hell was going on with the dog thing?’
Sinead O’Connor's voice softly came into my ear. Good old Ipod shuffle…I hadn’t heard her in a long time. I listened to the words and suddenly a song I had heard hundreds of times (ole’ Sinead used to be one of my favorites) developed a new meaning. A verse in the song goes something like “I love my boy, and that’s why I’m leaving, I don’t want him to be aware that there’s any such thing as grieving.” There was a time when I’m sure I nodded in agreement, but today, a day from the 5th anniversary of my father’s death, I had another thought.
Grief synonyms – Sorrow, heartache, anguish, angst, pain, misery unhappiness, woe.
What if you never experienced grief? No heartache, no gut ripping apart feelings that brings you to your knees? No compulsion to wail as loud as you can, but not be able to? My family witnessed all of the above as so many before us and since have. You want to scream “WHY?” Grief tests your religious beliefs; it could bring you closer to your God or pull you away as you try to make sense of the pain. But what if there was no grief when a love one leaves you to whereabouts unknown.
Little Wey…ah, the little one who was the first to steal my heart in Cambodia. I’m sure dad had some part in that; as there are just some things Wey does that in a very bizarre way reminds me of dad. The way his hair sometimes sticks up in the back on a particularly hot day, his sense of humor, and sometimes it’s just the look in his eyes. Dad helped me find my place in this world…maybe so (in his words) “he could stop worrying about me”. His words still sound in my head “Melinda Kay, would you just get married so someone else can worry about you" and the infamous "You are an albatross around my neck.” Why he thought anyone would WANT to worry about me is beyond reason, but that was dad, a worrier to the end.
Well Wey’s parents dropped him off as an infant. His father a drug user and his mother a bar matron. After Wey was born, his mother found out her lover, the father of her only child was HIV+ (oops, guess that somehow slipped his mind!) so she gave up the baby to rid herself of the father. I don’t think they were ever married. Wey’s mother has never been back to see him, but his father has visited a couple of times and when he was here, he was sober and seemingly a good father…if he could only stay off the dope…
There was one time I was so worried that Wey wouldn’t come back after his father took him home for a visit (only the 2nd time to do so). I was beside myself about the possibility of never seeing him again.
Wikipedia: Grief is a multifaceted response to loss, particularly to the loss of someone or something to which a bond was formed.
When he came back I felt selfish, I obviously needed to learn a new way of sharing. I had to learn to love while I have the chance and let go of the things you have no control over. Something I had learned with dad, but it had somehow slipped my mind.
Wey’s grandmother came by the day I left for Phnom Penh. She had never visited him before and I had our staff sociologist talk to her to see what was up. Apparently her son, Wey’s father, had died shortly after his last visit a couple of months ago. She was coming to tell her 7-year-old grandson of this fact. We got Wey from school and I left him with her and went into the office. It wasn’t but a few minutes when Wey walked into the office asking for the key to the bedroom he shares with our nighttime boys caregiver and a slew of other little boys.
When I asked him if he talked to his grandmother, he said yes. I asked him if she talked about his dad, he said “Yes, my papa die”. My heart started to rip and tears tried to make their grand entrance but Wey said again, “can I have my key”. I said I would walk him to his room and along the way, he picked up a very large plastic bag from the ground and said that his g-ma gave it to him.
When I opened the room, I was still feeling so sad about his dad, a man I had only met a few times. A man who had only seen his son a few times. Why was I so sad and it didn’t even phase Wey. Why was I the one grieving for him? Probably because I’m older and able to truly understand the implications of death, but maybe it’s because death has only come into my life a handful of times compared to the death that over took Wat Opot not so very long ago.
Maybe it’s because death is looked at a bit differently here, as not so much as a devastating thing, but as something that is a fact of life and the lives still living must go on. That is what I had to come to terms with in 2009 while sitting in my basement bedroom night after cold night in Washington, DC. I was not going to find any meaning in my father’s death, only in the life he lead. No lesson to be learned; just a very heavy heart accepting the comfort of friends and family to help ease the pain.
Although Dave Lies the Barber is physically gone from my life, he’s very much spiritually here. I saw you, dad, the other day when I glanced at a man on the back of a motorcycle sitting crossed legged smoking a cigarette like you used to do (although to my knowledge, not on the back of a bike!) I heard your voice while listening to “King of the Road” last week. I hear your one-liners ALL the time and find myself stifling a laugh-out-loud. You tell me to ‘comb my hair for Christ’s sake” and to “wipe that baby’s dirty face”. Luckily I don’t have to hear your words of wisdom “stop spending money and save it” that one I got down pat!
I love how the little girls talk about you when they talk about ghosts. Their cultural fear of ‘kmout’ or ghosts is a little diminished as I try to counteract their years of negative unnecessary fear of them. When a door slams unexpectedly, it’s you they blame. When I turn out the lights they say to me “oh, your papa come now” and I smile big and tell that you are here all the time, not just when the lights go out. When the spot an orb on a photo, they know it’s you. They giggle when I tell them that you come into their rooms every night and kiss them while they are sleeping. You are such a part of my life in this far away land than I ever could have ever imagined, but I did think that your fear of dogs would have diminished though…