Dear Dad is the story of my life told in the form of letters to my father, Walter Michael Jaworski, who died of a heart attack when I was five and whom, therefore, I never got to know. It is not a maudlin story of regret, but the tale of how one’s entire life — conscious and unconscious — can be shaped by the defining moment of a parent’s death, and how my own fatherhood lifted me from a lifetime of pain. These are letters five and six.
Death terrifies me. Thinking about the inevitability of my death leaves me utterly paralyzed, even to this day. The nothingness of it all brings existential dread. I can accept not living before I was born; but now that I’m here in this world, to imagine not being here, to imagine nothingness, brings shear terror. Mom tells me that I denied your death for a long time. Wayne would sit in your chair at the kitchen table and say he was the “man of the house” now. I said, “Get out of Dad’s seat! He’ll be coming home soon.”
The first poem that I wrote was on death. I was a young boy, proud of his accomplishment, with the poem carefully folded and placed in my young boy’s wallet. I take it out, proudly, and show it to Mom. She looks troubled. “I’m okay,” I assure her.
Just thinking about death
my face so wry;
What a horrible thought to think
And as I sit here with death at hand,
I see the faces of darkness from every land.
They tell a story of much, much pain;
A smile, a laugh, neither remains.
The world after,
what does it bring?
The song of death, which everyone must sing.
The poem signals a shift away from denial to acceptance of death, just as Kubler-Ross maintains in her book. But it is clear that I was troubled and needed help. None came. Mom handled your death stoically, without showing her own pain or tears in front of her sons. And so did we. Years later, in therapy, I cried many of those tears, over 30 years of accumulated tears, and wailed out my pain in the privacy of a therapist’s office. In some sessions, it seemed, I cried for the entire 50 minutes. We still have not, as a family, together grieved your loss. Perhaps we never will.