Grey's Anatomy ripped me wide open last week. Again. I'm starting to believe that the reason this show and I have made nice with each other is so that I can cope with my grief. Because three years, three weeks and four days later, it still hurts like hell. It's true that I have yet to watch an episode of this show and not get choked up a little or end up in full on tears. But this episode takes the cake. If you haven't watched the episode, come back and read this entry when you have. Seriously, don't keep reading if you are a fan of the show and haven't watched the January 18th episode (Six Days, Part II). I don't want to be held responsible for spoiling it for you. OK? Good. Thanks.
The short version is that George's dad dies from a number of complications stemming from esophageal cancer. The longer story, for me, is that what the O'Malley family went through is similar to what we went through with my dad, except that it was a longer road for us. Basically, the episode ended, my phone rang and it was my sister on the other end. I answered the phone with the words "OK, that was not cool."There were so many moments in the episode that were very close to my own experience. It was almost too much to take. The week before, when George can't walk into his father's hospital room and we see the scar down Mr. O'Malley has down his belly and the tube in his throat...that was a lot to handle. Things came back to me that I hadn't thought about in a long time. I remember seeing my dad intubated for the first time and it scared the shit out of me. After my dad's surgery, I was the only family member in the room with him when one of his doctors and a surgical intern showed up to check the scar on his belly and remove the surgical staples. Not stitches. Not gauze. Staples. I had to hold my father's hand while some kid in a lab coat used a staple remover on him. I'll never forget that intern's face when he asked about my father's condition and I told him what the deal was. His whole faced changed, like he knew something I didn't. Poor kid, I don't know if it was his first time with a patient who was dealing with what my father was dealing with or what, but suddenly, he looked stricken. He just patted my father's hand and said something like, "Good luck" or "I'm sure you'll be fine." Thinking back now, it was obvious that he knew something long before I did.
But the part of the show that hit the nerve, the part I can't think about without my eyes welling up and a lump forming in my throat is this:
CRISTINA: "There's a club. The Dead Dads Club. And you can't be in it until you're in it. You can try to understand, you can sympathize. But until you feel that loss... My dad died when I was nine. George, I'm really sorry you had to join the club."
GEORGE: "I... I don't know how to exist in a world where my dad doesn't."
CRISTINA: "Yeah, that never really changes."
And there I was. Ripped wide open, sobbing and feeling it all over again. That feeling never really changes. It's so unfair, but it's so freaking true. Yes, I get out of bed every day and I go to work and I spend time with my friends and live my life and all the other things that anyone else does. But there is this underlying feeling that something is missing. There is this piece of me that will always hurt, always long for my dad. I'm still not sure if I know how to exist in a world where my dad doesn't. I try to, but I know that there is no way I will ever fully recover from this loss. My heart's broken. That's a fact of my life. And maybe for the rest of my life, every happiness and every sadness will be tinged with an unspoken "I wish Daddy were here." Maybe. But watching that episode made a difference. It reminded me of how my family came together, how we found out how many people cared about all of us. It reminded me that it is OK to feel that sadness, he would want me to miss him, but he would also want me to go on and enjoy the life I have left to live.
I think what makes it even more meaningful is that the woman who wrote this episode, Krista Vernoff, was drawing from her own experience (click here for her story). She was brave enough to put herself through it all again and tell the story of losing her dad. And that gives me the strength to tell the story of losing mine. I am strong and I am not alone. I have my friends, I have my family and I have my dad with me every day.