The same observation over and over, each time phrased in nearly the same way: "I didn't expect you'd be here today."
All the clients I dealt with were senior citizens, and seemingly every one of them listened to the obituaries broadcast on the local radio station. They knew my father had passed away the day before, and apparently expected someone else in my place. Their words held a slightly accusatory tone: Why was I there? Why hadn't I taken the day off?
Why, indeed? Why didn't I go ahead and spend an entire day dealing with...whatever my feelings were. Grief, or something? That's what I was supposed to feel, right? Problem was, Dad and I weren't that close. No animosity, just a distance, a realization that whatever bond was supposed to be there just wasn't. So I felt bad, but I didn't feel as bad as I should, which of course made me feel worse.
I tried to reflect, to seize on some happy moment as a point of focus, but there just wasn't much in my memory. Most of what I knew about him came later, as I tried to assemble the bits and pieces I learned from Mom or from his sister. I began to have some admiration for the man Dad had been long before I was born, but by that time, by the time I longed to talk to him and get to know him better, he had become paralyzed due to a series of strokes. He couldn't walk, he couldn't talk, he just sort of existed, most of his time spent sleeping. When he died, I--to be brutally honest--mostly felt relief, grateful he had passed from the dreadful shadow land he inhabited for so long.
Again, though, relief at his passing made me feel somehow heartless, and I didn't want to confront my thoughts and feelings. Better to go to work, to take comfort in the routine of familiarity. Soon enough there would be an official grieving process, family and friends gathered, the time-honored rituals enacted. But that would be for tomorrow, and the next day, and the rest of my life. There would be plenty of time to process the feelings I couldn't quite understand. For the moment, there was my job, and as I heard the words over and over--"I didn't expect you'd be here today"--I stood numbly, wondering how to respond.