Monday Mourning: The Death of a Father

Wow!  It has been awhile since I've posted a Monday Mourning blog, but I'm excited to get back into the swing of things.  If you'd like to be featured on the blog, let me know at thedeathwriter @ gmail . com

Today I am pleased to introduce you to Michelle Auerbach.  She is an author, speaker and storytelling consultant.  Her novel, The Third Kind of Horse is available here.  

DW:  Who was the person that died?
MA:  My father. Douglas Matthew Auerbach.

DW: How old were you at the time?
MA:  Sixteen years old. It was the day I got my driver's license. So, the date was on that license for a long time. I looked at it every day.

DW:  How old was your Dad?
MA:  He was 41 years old.

DW:  Was it a sudden death or did you know it was going to happen?
MA:  It was very sudden. There are different family mythologies about how and why it happened, but he died of a heart attack that we assume was related to drug use. Was it an overdose? Was it just long term cocaine and valium addiction? Hard to know.

DW:  Had you experienced any other deaths in your personal life before the death of your father?
MA:  I had.  My grandmother died when I was little, but my mom chose to keep me away from the funeral so it never seemed real that she was gone. I still wonder if she is hiding in the kitchen in their old house, making inedible food.

DW:  Were people supportive of your grief or did they shy away when you were grieving?
MA:  People were shocked, scared, and supportive. I was the first person I knew to lose a parent. My friends were all amazing about it, coming to the shiva, sending food and flowers, hanging out with me. Providing me with substances that might make me feel it less (if my kids are reading this I absolutely did NOT inhale). But they also saw their own parents mortality in my father's death, and that was more than most kids knew what to do with.

DW:  Is there anything you wish you'd done differently with your Dad?
MA:  I wish we had been closer. We were trying. He had a tough life, and a lot of pain and turmoil internally. He was always half-way checked out because of it. I wish we had been closer so that I could have mourned what was instead of what could have been.

DW:  Was he buried or cremated?
MA:  He was cremated. Big mistake, but his wife did not know you don't do that if you are Jewish. It was a disaster. And then we had to get the ashes back to Cleveland, where he is buried and we lived, from Florida, where he died. I took him as carry on luggage. In what is now a very hip airline bag. But I was horrified, putting it though the security scanner. This was 1984, so security was easier. When asked what was in the bag, my Aunt told the security guy, "My brother is in the bag." Somehow they let us through.

DW:  Did you learn anything about the grieving process that you'd like to share?
MA:  I did. It last a very very long time, and each grief that happens after that compounds the original one. So that they are connected with tendrils of feeling, forming a lattice, or a net, or lace, or a web. It is at once beautiful, quiet, and horrifyingly loud inside. I went thought a tremendous amount of death and grief in my early 20's because I was living in New York during the AIDS crisis, engaging in activism, and living the club/college/demonstration lifestyle. So many people I cared about died that I felt as though my consciousness was resting on that mesh of grief. It took twenty years to work through it.

DW:  Last but not least, were any songs played at the memorial that were important to your Dad?
MA:  Strangely, I have this memory of being jolted awake early in the morning on the day of the funeral by one of my dad's friends playing "Start me up" by the Rolling Stones on my dad's stereo. It just washed over me like sonic waves of displacement. But stuck with me all these years.