I’ll try again. Grief isn’t a new story, neither is death. We know they’re coming, we just don’t know when or how exactly. Since my father’s passing this past January, I have experienced the typical feelings: the gradual flow from shock to sadness to acceptance. I know anger is supposed to be in there somewhere, but I mostly skipped over that part, having spent most of my young life angry at him, for real and perceived slights. For not being seen for who I was, for being viewed as an ally on the wrong team. I forgave him years ago, in so many words. Now, with him gone, I am grateful I made that clear. That ultimately, anger is no match for love.
So when he left us on January 11, 83.5 years to the day on this earth, my grief ran the typical course. And I thought it fitting, all of this happening in January. I have always despised the winter, the season of death. The season to get through for the payoff of the other three. Add to that the fact that nearly everyone close to me who has died has departed in the cold, wintry months—my grandfather, grandmother, my friend Sandy on that dreaded flight—it seemed fitting and altogether apropos.
My plan was, like a bear, I’d hibernate emotionally for a few months of acute grief. I’d allow myself those moments to wallow, to feel it fully, to let it wash over me in private and hopefully not too many public moments. I got better at taking tissues with me, as the train ride to work often led to reflection, which led to waterworks. I took solace in the ice floes on the river and that, even though winter is a part of nature, it is in many ways nature shutting down. It all made sense, to my planner’s mind.
Then, I would start afresh in spring. The season of life, of renewal. That made sense, too. Now’s the time to move on. It’s the most optimistic season, the one so full of hope. So much to look forward to — hiking, swimming, the grass growing, the flowers, animals and people coming out of hiding to enjoy the fresh, warm days. This is not a season for grief. It’s a celebration of life!
So I had it all planned out. And timed. And then . . . pitchers and catchers. Spring training. Opening day. Baseball.
My dad’s favorite sport. So many Sundays, the three of us, my brother, Dad and I going to a local field. We switched off, but to my memory, I was perpetually an outfielder, daydreaming until it was my turn at bat. So many Mets games, mostly lost. So many afternoons, Ralph Kiner, Tim McCarvey the backdrop in our living room.
I think of “Field of Dreams” and how I saw it in college and cried. And called him that night to tell him he had to see it. It felt like our story, a story of missed connections, of intentions never realized.
I loved baseball, because of him. And now I can’t bear the thought of a baseball season without him there, rooting them on. And I’m learning that you can’t tie up grief in a tidy, little bow. It has a life of its own, and won’t confine itself to your least favorite season. Grief comes when it wants to, and you better let it happen.
For the first time in my life, baseball hurts.