My Dad died over a month ago. Some moments I feel as though I am just walking out of the hospital in disbelief that I have to drive home and tell my kids that GrandDude died. Other moments I feel like it has been ages since I laid eyes on him, heard his voice, or sat with him at church. A few years ago, a client, with whom I was counseling, compared her grief over her mother to be like the tide. She described sorrow washing in, encompassing her entire being, and later washing back out leaving small memories and moments of calm. At the time, this metaphor made sense to me and I admit that I have repeated it with other clients since. When my Grandpa Jack died three years ago, I was able to use this notion in my own healing. Some moments I would feel as though I were drowning in the salty sea of despair, but I knew that soon the sun would shine again and I’d be left to discover joy. This time, with losing my Dad, the tide is stronger, the salty sea is angrier, and the joy has been harder to find.
Perhaps the hardest part is that the tide isn’t scheduled and certainly not predictable. When we lived in Virginia and Georgia, I became accustomed to hearing times for both high tide and low tide on the daily weather forecasts. We would sometimes plan our beach days around the tide and local businesses like chair rentals and seafood markets would do the same. I like life to be predictable. I’m a planner. My calendar is full of possible family adventures as well as scheduled “to do’s.” I like knowing which clients I will see each day and what meetings are approaching. When Trey and I began seriously dating, our biggest arguments were always over planning and scheduling. He had no sense of time and lived in a carefree spontaneous manner that didn’t always agree with my planned, and often controlled, personality. One of our first vacations spent together, he told me that we were either going to go to Kansas City or St. Louis but that we were going to flip a coin after driving as far as we could without committing either way. We packed, drove, and flipped the coin. I then pulled two hidden binders out from beneath my car seat. One was a St. Louis itinerary and the other the Kansas City option. Trey continues to tease me about how much time I invested in planning to be spontaneous. As the years have passed, life has influenced Trey to be more scheduled and life has influenced me to embrace down time. I still struggle with spontaneity and surprise, but my co-captain helps remind me to be in the moment. As I’ve struggled through each day since Dad died, I’ve felt unprepared and anxious about when the next wave of sadness will come. Days in which I expected to drown have passed relatively easy. His funeral was emotional but I made it through and while I dreaded Thanksgiving, I enjoyed the company of my family and made it through. Other days have saturated my soul and I’ve barely stayed standing. I had to return to work for two days between Dad’s death and his funeral. One of those days I had already registered to attend a conference on prescription drug abuse. I reasoned in my head that the conference was in no way connected to my Dad, would be a good distraction, and kept me out of my office where good meaning coworkers would be stopping in to check on me. The day was surprisingly horrible and packed full of crazy connectors to Dad. The Governor was the first speaker which reminded me that he had been quoted in one of the articles about my Dad’s death. The second speaker was a local politician that Dad and I often complained to one another about. I actually picked up my phone to text him after one ridiculous point was made in the speech before remembering that there would be no texts back from Dad. It took every ounce of energy to make it through the morning without bursting into tears and calling attention to myself. I left the sessions twice to sit on the floor of the hotel hallway and chase away tearful anxiety. In the most ridiculous coincidence, the afternoon keynote speaker, a medical examiner, showed autopsy photographs and several photographs of a heart with a faulty valve due to endocarditis, the infection that caused Dad’s death. Seriously!? Of all the keynotes, of all the conditions, of all the topics, this is the tide I faced just two days after I lost my Dad!? It was brutal and my poor doctor got a message from me on my way home that perhaps I did need a new prescription for antidepressants.
We all experience grief differently and Dad’s death is certainly an illustration of this point. My Mom has needed the care and comfort of her friends this past month. My brother has needed routine and opportunities to take care of my Mom. Logan is processing his grief in his own way. In the corner of his bedroom, underneath his beanbag chair he had a notebook hidden for the first couple of weeks after his GrandDude died. In the notebook he wrote letters to my Dad, journal entries about his own feelings, and glued pictures and mementos. He kept his scrapbook secret and we haven’t talked to him about it. I added pictures at one point but none of us acknowledged them. I noticed in the past week that the scrapbook has been moved. He’s getting through in his own way.
Between work and family, I’m rarely alone and that has been both good and bad. I am not one to publically display my emotions. I fight to keep my tears to myself and then find myself overflowing in the shower, at night, or in my car. My chest has felt constricted for the past month as though my heart might burst through my ribs at any moment. My sorrow is always in the back of my throat making it hard for me to breathe. I am still trying to discover what I need. Some days I have yearned to be near my Mom and brother and others I’ve needed to isolate in my house. I’ve spent valuable time with good friends, some of it seeking a distraction and other times taking advantage of friends who have offered to listen. I have tried diligently to not let my kids know how much they are helping me through the rough waters. I don’t want them to feel burdened with my grief or responsible for my health. As usual, Trey had kept me moving forward. He has allowed me time at night to cry and also nudged me beyond catatonia. The bitter side of me wants to say that nothing has helped, but that isn’t true. I know that despite the strong tide, each of the jetties has helped get me through. I want to scream out that I want my Dad but I know the reality. I know that this is our new normal and that I have to be satisfied with memories but it doesn’t yet feel like enough…and my greatest fear is that it never will. So each day, with each wave, I’m desperately trying to build and collect more jetties to help find some control over the tides in hopes that someday they haven’t washed me away. Hopefully someday I will find the beautiful mementos left behind as the tide retreats.