on Superbowls and heartbreak
It’s been one year since I saw my dad alive.
It was Super Bowl Sunday 2020, the Chiefs against the 49ers, and my big sister and I put a little game party together for my parents in their shared room in the skilled nursing facility. Always the one with the big picture ideas for making things better, my sister bought a new TV with a better screen for them, and valiantly wrangled the wires and cable connections to set it up while my parents were in the dining room. Meanwhile I shopped for goodies and drinks to make a party of it.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, Dad was a lifelong Giants fan so the teams themselves didn’t really matter. What Dad always loved was the party of the game, what I still call the “hoopla” — the lead-up, the food, the gathering every Sunday at game time to watch while he proudly passed around his tray of minced clams fresh from the oven.
This year would be quieter, different, as Dad continued to struggle with the cognitive and physical challenges that sapped his strength. Still, his face lit up when the game started. It made my heart happy when he kept asking for another slice of the chocolate chip bundt cake my sister had brought. He had little appetite most days; seeing him dive into that cake like it was the best thing he’d ever tasted (maybe it was?) made the moment priceless.
It was more precious than I could have imagined, unaware of the scope of the pandemic that was right around the corner. Dad died in late October; we buried him in his beloved Pompey hills with a fresh dusting of snow on the ground.
The week we spent with my family, sequestered in a nearly empty hotel in Syracuse, was a time of gathering, grieving and powerful healing. And still, my heart feels broken … for the lost time, the visits I was unable to make. The loss.
Yet my heart is far from broken; the very fact that it feels pain and sadness means it’s whole and powerful. This year taught me that. Every emotion is deeper, richer, more precious for the simple fact that I can feel it. We had so much joy this past year too, and our family has strengthened into a tangibly different kind of force for connectedness and support. Dad got us there.
So maybe his team didn’t win; they didn’t even get a chance to play. What mattered was we showed up, we were there, we ate cake, we celebrated and acted silly. We can grieve the loss … but my heart understands it would never hurt if it didn’t love so damn much.
Carol Pearson is the author of 10 Little Rules for a Blissy Life, and the founder of 10 Little Rules book series.