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Dad in Church
Read on Minnesota Public Radio
By Nanci Olesen

I have a brown paper grocery bag. I carry it with me at all times. Whenever I don’t want people to see me crying, I just put it over my head. I have cut two eyeholes so that I can see where I’m going.

My dad died about 6 months ago, which was really a moment ago. It was 10 days from diagnosis to death. We were with him all those days, my brother, my sister, my mom and I. Our families and spouses and cousins were there too. We sang and prayed and talked and joked and finally we said goodbye, late one evening in June.

And now it’s the damn holidays. There’s no getting around these days without my bag. As a waitress, I approach a table. A healthy looking gentleman in his mid-seventies is sitting there with his wife. They have just finished some Christmas shopping and are going to have a nice lunch before they attend their grandaughter’s holiday concert. I quickly put on my bag, so that they won’t have to bear my grief while I tell them the soup of the day.

My children are in a play. It is opening night and I am going to go with my mom. I cut some eyeholes in a grocery bag for her so that we can be safe and sound as we mingle with all our friends in the lobby. Everyone knows we are without Dad.

Everyone can hear his laughter and comments and see him, radiant, as he works the room. So to see us arrive without him, well, it’s just better for us to wear our bags.

Sometimes I get brave and take my bag off and walk around as if I understood that death is death and life is life and even though it’s sad it’s all really normal and natural and I’m working through it and wasn’t he such a great guy and weren’t we lucky he didn’t suffer much? I have a newsy little chat with someone and for all the world you would think I was just in the good old everyday. Then BLAM: a phrase, a lyric, a scent, and off I go. My bag!! Where’s my bag? Dang it! So I excuse myself to go to the bathroom or to get something in my car. I have myself a good cry. I usually figure out how to leave without anyone noticing me.

People tell me that the holidays are really hard that first year. They say that it gets better. I listen, and as I listen, I grab my bag and put it on. I say thank you. I give them a quick hug. Inside my bag, my face is streaked with tears and my forehead is all wrinkly and my mouth won’t go UP at the sides the way it used to. The Christmas lights blur in my vision and I navigate myself out of the room and out into the snowy night. When I am by myself, I take off the bag. I breathe deeply and look up at the stars. I let my face be however it wants. I smile, or laugh or cry. My heart is caught in the middle of my throat. I walk home, with my bag tucked under my arm.

—Nanci Olesen
producer and host, MOMbo: 1990-2007


Nanci Olesen's commentaries that have aired on Minnesota Public Radio:

06 may 2005 • Mother's Day

17 dec 2004 • Santa Lucia

02 dec 2004 • Holiday Blues

10 sept 2004 • First Week of School

09 july 2004 • Cell Phones

10 march 2004 • Circus Food

Dad in Church

Nanci Olesen's commentaries that have been published in magazines:

May 2002 • Road Trip


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