I’ve kept this to myself for more than a year and at the risk of sounding completely delusional, I’ve decided to share my secret, I talk to flies. Not so bad? OK, it gets weirder… I talk to my dad as a fly. Yep, I warned you, now hold your judgement and let me explain.
I know a lot of people who see signs, symbols or animals and remember a loved one. Most of the time I hear butterflies or cardinals, usually creatures with less filthy and annoying reputations. My dad always wished he had the ability to fly and beginning with the day he passed it seemed he was communicating literally as a fly. After battling a cancer that ate away at his bones, robbed his ability to move comfortably and provided a hellish amount of pain, he was finally free to fly.
The police arrived after his last breath before 4 AM, a fly flew in with them. It was early spring and the first fly I had seen that year rested on the ceiling in his bedroom as I sat with my mom, numb from the previous year leading up to that moment.
Breaking the empty silence, “I still want to go on the family vacation we talked about,” Mom said. We had been trying to keep my dad encouraged during his illness by talk of taking a big trip to Machu Picchu, a place he had always wanted to see. We promised him we would all go when he regained his health, as we all believed he would. The fly took off from the ceiling and circled around the room several times before landing again. Half joking, I identified the fly as “Dad” and stated he was showing his support of us going.
Over the months that followed, I continued to have symbolic moments with flies. Times when I was overwhelmed with sorrow, flies seemed to appear in the most unlikely or random places. I didn’t associate all flies with my dad and there was some frustration within myself for even recognizing the connection an insect could have with someone I admired so much. Generally, the disgust I had for flies and what they represented before, turned to comfort and humor when I needed it during the darkest moments of grief. An early fly memory was watching as the creature floundered in flight, wobbling like a drunk as if it were learning to fly brought a smile. I lost my natural instinct to swat away flies and instead forced me to tune into the present in those moments they appeared.
Six months after his death, I dreaded my parent’s anniversary. I knew it would be unbearable for my mom and I figured she wouldn’t want anyone around. The hopelessness I felt during his illness returned with the hopelessness I had knowing there was nothing I could do to help my mom. For the better half of the day I debated whether I should bring her the roses I knew my dad would have brought to her as he did every year. I agonized, cried and could not turn my thoughts to anything else as I sat at my kitchen table confused. Of course a fly appeared and circled around me, maybe out of anger he wasn’t physically present and my mom was suffering, I left for the opposite corner of the house to let my tears continue to flow. The damn fly immediately followed and rested on the ceiling above my head. For the first time in six months I spoke to the fly, to my dad. “Do you want me to bring her roses,” I asked. The fly left the ceiling and flew into my raw wet cheek. “Fine Dad, I will go get them.” I can’t imagine they helped Mom much that day, but Dad wanted her to have them.
Without hearing his words, the fly has been his form of communication to quiet my emotion, to remind me to breathe, at times to let me know his disapproval and more than anything to signal he is and always will be with me. As strange as I know it is, I accept my bizarre connection to this six-legged, giant eyed buzzing creature.
This past summer my uncle also passed. My cousin, sister and I all decided to get a tattoo for our dads, likely one of the last things they would have wanted us to do for them. My uncle even told his daughters “tattoos are like putting a bumper sticker on a Cadillac.” I guess I think of my body as more of a Volkswagen bus with a statement to make. Of all the words or imagines I debated to use as a tribute to my dad, one thing seemed make the most sense. The fly sits high on my left femur, the bone which broke on my dad’s way to being able to fly.
Happy Birthday Dad, the flies are not much of a substitute for being able to see you, talk to you and feel your hug. I appreciate them either way. You are free from pain and at peace now, I miss you today and always.