Chris E. Hayner

Writer. Jerk. Neat dude.

Crisis of life (and death)

I don’t know what to do. That’s a thought that keeps bouncing around in my head, over and over. I don’t know what to do and it’s driving me crazy.

When my dad died a little over a month ago, the shock of it didn’t completely hit me. I was angry, I was stubborn and I was smart or foolish enough to keep myself distracted. For a month I worked practically non-stop on a variety of things, not giving myself the room to think, reflect and let it soak in.

That changed this weekend when I went up north for dad’s memorial. There, in the Railroad Flat Community Center, as the American Legion folded a flag in my dad’s honor while a recording of taps played and someone pretended to play a bugle, it hit me. He’s gone.

I’m not going to see him again. Living in LA, I only saw him when I went up to visit. Dad hated the city and his leg gave him so many problems that traveling was never fun for him. But this was my second time up (the first being when I found out he was gone) that I didn’t see him and when Taps started playing I finally realized that he’s actually gone.

That’s the kind of thing that sends a normal person for a loop. Someone who feels like he’s constantly teetering on the edge of depression, though? That will crush your world.

I spent the next two days not understanding what to do with my life. Suddenly, life was a thing that can be taken away. If I’m not happy, is it all wasted?

What’s more, now it’s clear to me that the people I love won’t always be there. I spent so much time not hanging out with my dad, I forgot to make so many phone calls, I spent so much time away … and all I can think of is how I could have spent more time with him, having more experiences with him. Fuck, I could have just spent more time talking and laughing with him. It’s what we did best.

Now all I can think about is the rest of my family. They’re not going to live forever and neither am I. Am I wasting time by just spinning my wheels by myself, not taking advantage of all of the time with them I possibly can?

When people grow up, some movie away but some don’t. I left the house at 18, moved to LA for college, spent many years here before winding up somewhere in the middle of the state. I then made trails for Wisconsin before coming back to LA. That’s the life I’ve made for myself and it’s led me to some weird things.

But there’s nothing like a death in the family to make you question whether it was all worth it.

I sincerely hope it has been and will continue to be. At the moment though, it’s hard to not think “It’d be nice if I could go over and have dinner with my mom tonight.” Then I’d probably go over to Kevin’s and play Xbox.

Instead I’m packing my bags to take off on another weird and cool trip tomorrow, where I’m going to play with the cast of one of my favorite shows and watching wrestling in NYC for a few days.

That’s the thing, neither end of the spectrum is the downside. I just need to be better about finding the balance and recognizing when it’s out of whack.

That’s my crisis of life. I need to be better and I need to feel better about it all. But I only feel like I’m drowning.

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  1. I feel all of this, Chris. This moment — the finality of death moment — comes over and over again. Though, for me, I had this same anvil-like realization after my dad’s memorial service. I hadn’t even realized that I was holding my breath, thinking that once I got through the memorial service that everything would be back to normal, until it was over and my dad still wasn’t there. It wasn’t “normal” and it never would be again. That was probably one of the worst times that the finality of death has hit me, but I have this moment so often in the mornings when I wake up and remember for the first time that day that my dad is dead. I will say that the moment has gotten easier, it feels like less of a shock to the system but it still hurts.

    The being away from home thing is a big, too. I live about three hours from my mom and from where I grew up, so I have been able to visit a lot more. It makes me really hesitant to move any further away because, right now, I am within visiting distance to my family members and that feels important. (Though it also feels nice to have a buffer sometimes.) It seems impossible that I will have to lose all of my loved ones or they will have to lose me. This is something I have always known on a theoretical level, but — in the days following my dad’s death — I kept thinking: How can this be a reality of life? How does everyone stay sane?

    But, yeah, when I go home, it both feels nice and is so much harder. When I was in Europe this past summer, it was so much easier not to feel sad because I didn’t expect for my dad to be there. It was the happiest (or at least most distracted) I had been since his death. Then, I got back and it hit me all over again, like it was waiting for me as soon as I got off the plane. He wasn’t there to pick me up at the airport. He wasn’t there for me to tell about my trip. He wasn’t there to tell me how much he irrationally worried about me while I was away from home. In some ways, the European distraction was better, but it also always felt temporary. Like I was living in a dream that couldn’t (and maybe shouldn’t) last.

    I’m just rambling right now, but wanted to tell you how thankful I am for this post and how much I understand so many of these feelings. I am thinking about you often. I feel like I have changed so much in the months since my dad’s death. It’s like my insides have shifted all around in an attempt to make up for the gaping hole. At first, that shifting was grating and unbearable and felt like it was never going to end. I know that it will go on for my entire life, but it has already started to settle a little bit. I have already started to click into my new reality, into my new me — the me who doesn’t have a dad who is alive anymore and who understands the finality of death on a much more personal, demanding level.

    In the months since my dad has died there are two thoughts that have come back to me again and again and that I have found some measure of solace in: First, the confirmation from other people who have lost a parent that I am going to get through this. Second, the idea that, though my dad may no longer exist, his love lives on in me. It makes me sad, but it feels more tangible to me than anything. I am not an overly religious person. I don’t think I believe in heaven or life after death or that my dad is somewhere watching me right now, but I do believe that — as long as I still think about him and try to live up to the life he gave me and try to live my life to the fullest (whatever the hell that means) — that he will live on in some way. T

    Thinking of you!

  2. Chris everything your feeling and doing is perfectly normal it may get confusing and feel weird but it’s normal u know I missed the flag serimony and until I saw the pic on Facebook the next m of reyann handing my dad the flag that’s the first time I was able to grieve and I grieved all that day hang in there cuz I love you heidi

  3. Chris, your Dad and Mom are excited for your journey in life. You are doing something you enjoy and are very talented at. In life, you do the best you can to balance Work, family, friends, activities you have a passion for etc.. Be thankful for the time you had with your Dad, be thankful for the time you share with the other people in your life. We in MN/WI are greatful to have spent the time we have, to get to know you. Be thankful that because of your time here you got to better understand your Dad and his connection to the great north. We love you and are excited to continue to follow your adventure in this crazy thing we call life. We are all here for you, David and your Mom. Your Cousin, Wendy

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