By Sanderson Tattersall
Here’s an idea for the next time you have a reflective minute. Start working on your obituary. It may seem like an obvious and pedantic exercise. Maybe it is. But my obituary is all I can think about lately.
After my father’s recent passing, I had to write my father’s obituary. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever written. Mostly because obituaries are short. Constricting. Limiting. 79 years needed to be compressed into three highly formatted and formal paragraphs. They are a highlight reel of accomplishments, nothing more, and in no way do they tell the story.
Our relationship was complex. That’s what I say anyway. It was one of divorce, distance, denial, and now death. I was never able to spend the kind of time I wanted with my father. He kept moving farther and farther away and I stayed put. Just one of a million similar stories. It’s not even really tragic comparatively speaking, but for me, it was incredibly sad and I spent a lifetime sweeping my emotions under the rug.
What did I learn from writing this? Nothing about our time together on earth. That’s fodder for my therapist’s couch. Job security as they say. But through his virtues and flaws, the love and the shared pain, and the lost time- our relationship endured diluted and fractured, yet beautiful.
His relationship with his father was complicated as well, also separated by thousands of miles and unsaid things. He did his best based on his experiences, I suppose.
“What’s past is prologue.”, Shakespeare tells us in The Tempest.
All that remains for me to do is focus on my own kids. Being physically there as well as mentally there is the thing. Horrendously cliché of course, but it tracks. Mindfulness. Being present. Social buzzwords that make us feel emotionally and socially compliant. But now the realization that time is lost and it can never be retrieved — the knowledge that things will never be reconciled with my father has set in and grown roots. I’ve always known this, but there was time then. Possibilities.
I hope that when my kids in turn write my obituary, together, it will be a task that will bring them together. It will make them cry, but it will also bring tearful, happy, belly laughs as they look back fondly at their father, who stuck around.