As the days pass since Dad’s death, I find myself thinking of his absence less often. Instead of the pervasive absence, I find myself forgetting that he’s gone. A day or two goes in which I’m distracted by work, care of my kids, meal planning, social interactions, and typical life. Then, suddenly, I pick up my phone to call Dad about a story I heard on NPR or a book I’m reading. While I’m not in constant pain, as I was the first couple of months, these sudden pangs of reality seem sharper, harsher. Guilt floods my gut for becoming distracted from my grief.
Friends have asked the dreaded question “How are you doing?” less often and I’ve become out of practice with my vague answer. In the days and weeks following his death, I became adept at answering these queries in a way that satisfied curiosity and convinced most that I was being sincere. I know that people don’t know what else to say and so they often say what they need to hear in that moment. My replies were carefully constructed for the benefit of the listener. “I’m getting through.” … “It is hard but I’m surrounded by love.”…”I’m ok.” Now that people have moved on, the less frequent questions often take me by surprise and are more difficult to answer. I’m still getting through and still surrounded by love but the ache is still there.
A couple weeks ago a friend questioned me about my state and didn’t accept my dismissive answer, avoidant eyes, or fake smile. She listened to my scripted response and asked again “but how are you?” I didn’t want to admit that I have 6 voicemails from Dad saved on my phone that I consider listening to each day but then avoid them because I know it will be too hard. I didn’t want to tell her that I read through Dad’s Facebook messages wishing for a new post. I didn’t want to share that I still haven’t visited the Columbarium because I’m not ready to see his name followed by an end date. I definitely didn’t want to tell her that I still pretend he’s just traveling and that I’ll see him at Logan’s next game or in our church pew. I didn’t want to admit that I often set my alarm for the middle of the night so that I can cry alone without worrying my family. I didn’t want to tell her that my stomach remains in knots at the idea of seeing my Dad’s side of the family, whom I love very much. I didn’t want her to know that my worry about my Mom and brother’s functioning keeps me from sleeping and, at times, from being able to breathe deeply. I didn’t want to tell her that every time I look at my precious daughter, my heart aches that we somehow didn’t take any pictures of Dad holding her.
My professional training helps me know that this is all part of typical grief but that knowledge certainly doesn’t make it an easier process. I’ve been afraid to say any of this out of fear that once I start bleeding, I won’t be able to stop. I went home that evening and cried to Trey. (cried is an understatement but flows better than “I laid in the fetal position on the couch while Trey told me to quiet my sobs so that I wouldn’t disturb the neighbors 2 acres away) Trey was everything he needed to be in that moment. He provided comfort, cursed the luck, and loved me even as I lashed out. I slept restlessly that night and woke feeling nauseous. I walked into my friend’s office the next morning and poured out my sorrow. No, I’m not ok and that is normal. Everyone else moves on and yet I’m still here, feet planted in this moment. I’m not mad that people are moving on and I know that there are many people missing Dad too. But life does march on. People do make new memories and new connections but the reality that these new memories and new connections are being made without Dad in them has me vulnerable and miserable.
I needed that process. I needed someone to push me and I needed Trey to help me pick up my pieces. I teach people about self-care every day but am the last to put it into practice. I have focused my energy on making sure Trey and the kids are grieving constructively but haven’t allowed myself the same journey. I would love to now write that since having that “breakdown” I’m in a much better state, but I don’t know if that is true. I am trying to do more for myself each day. I’m spending time each morning meditating, have begun running again, and am soaking up precious time with my family. I’ve distracted my mind with prompted writing and can’t seem to read enough. As long as I keep my mind from wandering freely, I’m maintaining.
The random reminders of grief continue to throw me for a loop. This week I was sitting in my office working on paperwork when a coworker peeked his head in my door and asked if I’d heard the Governor’s kind words about my dad. I hadn’t and began scrambling to figure out what was happening. With a quick internet search, I was able to listen to a soundbite of the Governor announcing my Dad’s replacement. My breath left my body and my heart dropped into my gut. Obviously, I knew that a replacement would be announced at some point. Logically, I knew that the agency that my Dad headed would need a leader but hearing an actual name with the title that Dad held so proudly stung. The Governor began the announcement with another lovely tribute to Dad’s work but I found myself throwing that to the side of my mind and focusing on a new face replacing Dad’s in the entryway of the station; a new face on the website; and a new body occupying his office. Dad would be the first to brag about the staff he worked with and would never take credit for everything that happened under his leadership, but in my head and in my heart, that is his station. (Note: I’m sure she is a lovely person and I can’t wait to see the amazing things she does with an already incredible staff and agency.) This week, I’ve fought feelings of bitterness, a need to hurt more than anyone else, and a new tsunami of feelings. Thankfully, this announcement came during Trey’s annual trip to the SEC tournament with his stepdad. His absence has made me have to function, have to cope, and have to avoid collapsing on the floor in loud, ugly, snotty tears that would terrify my children. I have kept a list of ways I wanted to grieve this week but wouldn’t allow myself. Know that I actually wrote the following words: “I want to text everyone who has ever lost a parent and tell them that I hurt more than they do.” And “I need someone to tell [another grieving family member] to move on because I can’t deal with someone else’s grief.” Clearly these were filed in the “not productive” category. Instead, in the past 5 days, I have read 4 books, bought way too many things online, and strayed from my diet. (Still not productive but at least I didn’t ruin relationships…right?) I have also written every day, stayed *fairly* focused at work, talked to friends, exercised, and enjoyed time with my kids. Tomorrow I will wake up and keep moving forward. Some days it will hurt like hell and others will seem better somehow. At least, that is what I keep telling myself.