Goodbye, Dad: A Diary of Grief


February 7, 2020

My strong, vital, handsome Dad, Jagdish Kallappa Jirge, passed away today. This is the greatest sorrow of my life, and also a moment of peace and pride. My Dad has been healthy and strong forever, having been a daily exerciser. He had literally never been in a hospital before. But he contacted pneumonia, which combined catastrophically with a series of strokes. His passing was peaceful, and he never was aware or felt fear or pain. There are many stories to tell about the last seven days, but right now, they live quietly in me. Just like he will.

February 9, 2020

Thank you for your wonderful messages and comments about my Dad’s passing. Every single emoji and text and message and email is like a string keeping me tethered to the Earth. Otherwise I feel like I might just float away and get lost.

Please keep these messages coming. Don’t ever think it’s too much or too many. I may not respond right away, but it is so incredibly helpful. Please tell mutual friends you know.

February 12, 2020

For all of my adult years, my biggest fear has been my Dad’s death. Just thinking about the possibility would bring me to tears in the middle of whatever I was doing.

Well, it happened. You know what’s so odd? As heartbroken and crushed as I am, I’m also free of that fear. I know I won’t feel this crushed forever (that’s what people tell me and I’m hanging onto that). But the fear is gone, forever.

February 13, 2020

Frank Bruni is my favorite New York Times columnist. He writes about things I care about with intelligence and humanity. I get his weekly newsletter, which arrived yesterday. This is how it ended:

On a Personal Note

The mother of a close friend of mine recently died. I used to run into her at the gym. She was a faithful reader of The Times, always ready with an observation — a smart one — about some article in the paper. She had a great way of being outraged by the right things but not being consumed by that emotion. She could smile. She could laugh. Those two abilities may well trace the line between psychological paralysis and a forward-moving life.

But that’s not why I mention her. Her death reminded me of my own mother’s, more than two decades ago, when she was just 61. It reminded me, too, of how unfathomable I found it. A person is here one second, gone the next. Breathing, not. Able to love and be loved, then only to be loved. The transition is instantaneous, no matter how drawn out the prelude to it. There’s no way to prepare for it. No way to process it.

In the beginning I thought of my mother all the time. That was awful. Then, many months in, I realized that I was no longer thinking of her all the time. That was worse. It felt like a defect of character, a betrayal. She had given me so much — had given me everything — and was owed sustained, uninterrupted remembrance. What did it say about me that I couldn’t pay my debt?

My failure gnawed at me for a good long while, until I realized, or at least rationalized, that I was being an idiot. The way to pay tribute to my mother wasn’t by surrendering my thoughts to her. It was by embracing her example.

It was by remembering and living her lessons and exhortations about generosity, about responsibility, about fairness. She cared about courtesy; I try to honor that. She cared about language, about words, and so I care, hoping to do her proud and wishing she were around to tell me if I’m succeeding.

My friend said that he can’t believe that his mother is dead. I couldn’t believe mine was, either. That’s because, in a fashion, she wasn’t. She isn’t. I make sure of that. And he’ll make sure — with his own abilities to smile and to laugh — that his mother lives on, too.

February 14, 2020

Dad always told me that it doesn’t matter what I say, it matters what I do.

He was a man of few words. I am a woman of many. But I know what he meant, and which was essentially: talk is cheap.

We can tell the world stories about the person we’d like to be. We can explain why we don’t do the hard work of pursuing our dreams. Sometimes we have legitimate reasons, other times we have excuses, and only we know the difference.

My Dad was a man of discipline. I am a woman of intuition. His advice cut through my emotions with blunt honesty. He was never cruel — everything given with tenderness and love — but he never softened the edges. Sometimes his best advice was silence. I knew not to ask him certain questions because I already knew the answer (and he knew I knew).

He redirected me toward my own internal strength when I didn’t even know I had it.

February 15, 2020

Still standing.

February 16, 2020

Thank you, thank you, for the influx of love and caring since my Dad died. The scope of your empathy and compassion is just…well, it’s amazing. I haven’t responded to every comment or message, but I can tell you from the deepest place in my heart that every single one matters. Every tiny contact is a hand at my back helping me stand.

My Dad always told me it doesn’t matter what I say, it matters what I do.

It is far easier to do nothing, to trust that, somehow, America’s dangerous course will be set right. But this is a dangerous gamble, and in fact an abdication of our responsibility as Americans and indeed as human beings. If we do nothing, that is a choice. It means we accept a government that has demonstrated it is capable of inflicting cruelty on the innocent and defenseless. What will we do? — via the Baltimore Sun.

February 19, 2020

My energy is so unpredictable right now. I am both completely broken and unbelievably focused. It’s such a disorienting time, but also shot through with blinding, terrifying, comforting clarity. I can’t believe this is my life.

February 21, 2020

My parents never had a candy dish. Dad was in charge of grocery shopping and kept an eye on his intake of sweets. Mom, on the other hand, says “a day without chocolate is a day without sunshine.” So, for now…

Dad and me at the top of Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park. The other moment of before/after bravery we shared.

February 23, 2020

One of the many things my dad’s death has made abundantly clear: the difference between urgency and importance.

I have come across a trove of old photos and slides that I am now figuring out how to organize and digitize. This project, more than any other, has the potential to impact future generations and bring closer those of us who are here right now. Already, a few of these photos have unlocked stories I never could have accessed otherwise.

February 24, 2020

I woke up at 4:30, like my dad did every weekday during his working years. Had my first cup of coffee (unlike Dad, a tea drinker), then left the house before dawn so I could watch the sunrise. On my way here, I drove through Starbucks for my second cup of coffee (which Dad would have approved of only because it was free).

I’m now looking at the hills and oaks and mountain of my childhood. I smell the grass, green despite drought, and hear the comical blackbirds and white-crowned sparrows, and understand once again why this is called the Golden State.

In retirement, Dad slept in. But if I would have asked, he would have risen before dawn to accompany me on this walk. It wouldn’t have been so different, because we wouldn’t have said much. We just would have walked and stopped for the views and taken a couple of pictures. And then we would have gotten back in the car and driven home.

February 26, 2020

Right now, grief feels like bone-deep sadness with an undercurrent of silent but unmistakable joy. I didn’t expect this.

February 27, 2020

He taught me to enjoy the growing more than the harvesting.

February 28, 2020

On the Coast Starlight, passing through the Mt. Shasta area of N. California during sunrise. Drinking my coffee while watching the landscape along the Volcanic Scenic Byway roll by. It’s an overnight trip from the Bay Area to Portland by rail. Mom hates to fly so this is how we decided to travel, and I’m glad. The gradual journey, including a full night’s sleep in a train bunk, is deeply soothing. A quiet and grounding way to move into what’s next.

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  • I’m so sorry, Asha— I didn’t know. My dad died very suddenly (head trauma) 9 years ago. I talked to him that morning, like I did every morning, and then he was gone. My aunt told me that eventually the physical ache where your heart is goes away— she was right. My spiritual director, who like most Jesuits is smart and liberal, told me that even though the person dies, the relationship doesn’t end. When he was just 19, his dad had died suddenly, and yet, he told me, “I still talk to him all the time.” He was right too— I still tell my dad about all the stuff he’d be shaking his head at these days (two words: President Trump), and the stuff he’d be laughing at. I tell him about the kids. You get to a new normal eventually, but in those first few days and weeks, it felt like my old life in which Dad was just puttering around being Dad was right there, so close, like I could lift a veil and walk back into it.

  • Oh Asha, I’m so sorry for your loss. I know what you mean about the fear – I feel that way about my parents, too. Wishing you peace and comfort, knowing you were – still are! – so loved by your dad.

  • Sweet Asha, feel my love and hugs as you adjust to time without your dad. He was a jewel, as are you!
    Much love to you,

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