It’s been six months and a week or so since my Dad passed away.
Just after school ended last May, I packed a large suitcase and took my kids to Montana for six weeks. We’ve been home for almost three weeks now, and oddly it feels almost as if we never left Mississippi. More about that trip later.
I noticed a few changes in my outlook and wanted to document them. I still look for the stories of others, not in a systematic way, but in the way a person wants something and having seen it they recognize it. I’m tempted to philosophize and reassure any readers that everything is good and looking up, that I am at complete peace. This isn’t true though.
My path has always been one of steady plodding even prior to the greatest grief of my life. Great leaps ahead rarely happen, but if my subjective assessment is correct, I’m still moving forward rather than back.
In the first months, I couldn’t look at pictures of my Dad. I didn’t want to gaze at his image on paper or online remembering him. It was a mockery, like a taunt, “See here! This is the only tangible way to see him now.” But lately I have looked at pictures and found comfort. I don’t have any pictures of him set up in my house where I will glance at them throughout the day; rather I see him randomly either in my photos on my phone or in a few snapshots that thankfully were printed.
I don’t look too long though. Pictures and the few videos I have are a cool cloth to a fevered forehead: soon the cloth warms and the pulsing reality of loss permeates my memories. I look away from the precious image until next time.
My eyes no longer feel like they are painfully wide open to the world as if expecting another blow out of nowhere. I remember feeling like I couldn’t mentally process my sadness and shock and that my mind couldn’t expand enough to take it in. My temples were hollowed out with the attempt to assimilate the new normal. I didn’t know my face looked any different, but more than one person let me know I looked “bad” during that time.
I’m not sure how my face looks now, but I have settled more or less into a form of disbelief or denial with a slowly dawning reality.
For months I couldn’t look at the sky because of the physical separation it represented. Where is Heaven, exactly? At the very least we know we can’t travel there by our own means, so the distance is irrelevant because it is impossible.
To look at the sky was to acknowledge that my Dad, so often out of my reach while on earth, was now permanently out of my reach while I still live. No one would say of me, “Oh how she loves looking at the clouds,” but like most people I find beauty in the diversity of the skyscapes. Looking at the huge, expanding and moving clouds brilliant in their whiteness and the scattered, rippling clouds tinged with gray or multicolored and set against their backdrop of receding blue or soft pastel–this is a pleasure I had lost when I lost my Dad.
Now I do look a little longer at the clouds and sky. God like a friend, seems to say, “I am here with you. I set the clouds, I push them across the sky, every day for thousands of years I make new pictures above. I am here.” So I open my eyes against the scene above and watch it moving taking comfort in its beauty.
I cry a little more often, but I notice the tears are still mostly held in check. I, the crier, cannot cry too much.
But two Sundays ago we turned to the hymn “Like a River Glorious,” and I felt something building. Block upon block it built up in my heart. When he was having me write down the funeral arrangements, he chose “I’ll Fly Away” and then asked me what other song he should have. This was my choice, and he accepted it. This day in church, for the first time in six months we sang my choice.
Sitting in church I kept pushing the blocks down because my children wanted my attention, and decorum is required in public, and crying in company is embarrassing and messy. I kept trying to refocus, but finally when the sobs were quiet but audible, I got up. We had arrived separately which was something we try to avoid, but it provided an escape for me this day.
“I don’t want to leave you alone,” Brad said on the front porch of the church.
“But I’m never alone,” I answered meaning someone is always at my side, needing me, waiting for me, asking for me, literally pushing into me, wanting me.
So I drove home alone, and sitting in my little black Toyota, the first vehicle I bought after I got my nursing license, the pick-up my Dad helped me buy, I stepped back in time to January 18, 2018. The clock stopped at 2:22 pm, and instead of feeling the shell of glass close down over me, the full horror of what had happened broke upon my cognizance. I wept like a woman who has just learned of a horrific accident, a woman who has just seen Death’s scythe sweep down and cut the life out of a human.
On that day in January I was silent; my mind was filled with deep quietness. I walked around the room putting my hand on a weeping aunt, then a cousin. I set my mind to my unwanted but welcomed task having watched my dad’s health seep away in a month’s time. At that time, my desire and focus was to honor my dad in his burial proceedings.
Not so that Sunday, in my Toyota. I roared with agony. His body, so strong and capable, his mind always striving for knowledge and self-improvement, was utterly gray and still that day.
When someone is deeply loved, to see them no longer breathing and existing in bodily form is a great horror. Instinctively I had looked away from the diaphoretic, clammy face and long, limp arms.
For an hour I let the reality be as real as it could be. No pushing it away. Looking again and again at the drooping mouth, the hands unmoving, the chest never rising. Every day I see this image in my mind, but I don’t dwell on it. This day I did. No one was around to ask for a snack. No one needed me to explain why. No one was there to put their hand on me or smother me in a hug or urge me to let it all out—reassurances sometimes needed, but not always freeing. Thus unhindered I was free to mourn unashamed. There was nausea, but nothing too strong.
Can you see this? Your loved one, forever changed. You have to learn how to relate to this new non-person who is knitted into your own soul. It is truly breathtaking and not in a lovely way.
When my family came home, I cleaned my face and let the barriers go up again. We made dinner, cleaned up, and went for a tearless drive enjoying the creek, snowballs, and each other’s company.
My final point in this update is this: God is not in a hurry. I believe this with all my heart.
Those who want to be helpful either because they have walked here already or because they are empathetic by nature or practice, reassure the grieving ones, “There’s no right way to do this. There’s no time line.” I agree, embrace this notion, and appreciate the gentle spirits who offer it.
I also want to be moving forward. However incrementally it might be, such as managing to look at the sky or pictures, I want to keep moving ahead.
My aunt sent me a podcast about dealing with grief, a gesture I greatly appreciated. I began to listen and immediately heard, “Moving forward is a choice.” I turned it off.
Yes, moving forward is a choice, but I don’t force it. I don’t even fully acknowledge the choice to be made. After the hard weeping on that Sunday, I did push it back down and go back into my mode of modified denial. During the following week, tears filled and flowed over my eyes and face as I got ready to go to sleep one night. But I shut it off. I believe that from the beginning of this journey, God has been patiently allowing the reality to dawn. It is a gentle, painful increase in knowledge day by day. It is heavy, and He knows I can’t bear too much at once.
Slow and steady forward. Life does have to be lived, my children need me, and in some ways, I feel closer to my Dad now than I ever have in my life.
I’ll write about that next, if I can find the courage.
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6 thoughts on “Slow and Steady”
🙏even a small step is a step. There is no hurry. Take your time. I am still on that journey. Some days i move forward ,and other days i just stop to languish and rest. And that’s ok, because Its my journey . One day I’ll get there, maybe.
And there’s no need to get there—-that’s how I feel. I’m sure there’s a point where it’s unhealthy not to progress, but if I’m keeping up basic functions of life and maintaining my children and house, I’m not worried about arriving anywhere. I agree with you so much.
( I replied to this post once, then somehow lost it, must have hit a deleat button, ugggg.)
My final point in this update is this: God is not in a hurry. It’s these 14 words that lit up like a Christmas tree when I read them. They make me want to write a post on them, repeat it to others who are waiting for something, anything, but just do something God. I think these instant faith healers and instant blessings have given God’s ways a bad name. If we get lost in the process of say, grief, or living and things do not move we wonder…where are you, how can I be so slow to learn or something along those lines. But you call it Gina, God does not get in a hurry. I have thought this often, He could have created everything in one day but He took seven, I mean He is God, not bound by time or pressure to hurry by anyone. Someone ask me the other day about how long did it take me to grieve my mother. Oh, I said, I am still there. Just recently I found some pictures of my mother with Tara in her bed at the nursing home a few days before she died. I had not seen them…it stunned me, literally, she looked like she was dead yet I know she was alive then. I transferred them to my phone so I could study them, that did not work. It caused such mixed emotions in me. I don’t remember her looking so bad. Then I look at her in her light blue coffin in her red plaid blouse that she loved so much and she looks alive, well sort of, but not like death. They puffed her face up, put make up on her, combed her hair, put soft lights on her, she looked pretty but those nine days before she died, she looked dead.
Then I read your post and those 14 words, God is not finished yet with my grieving, it’s not complete, there is more I need to learn to feel again and again so it will be fresh and the emotion of grief alive so I can help others. I can remind them, God is not in a hurry. I hope you put these post about your father in a book for all to read….beautiful, thought provoking, comforting Gina.
I didn’t want to answer this from my phone because, as before, there is so much here that resonates with me. You touched a subject I’ve only been able to admit to myself and not put in writing. I wanted to sit at the computer and answer carefully. I’ll just say….this, your response, the rawness and the new-to-you truth, is the kind of healing story I long for. It’s hard to talk about, but sometimes reading the hard things opens a door on healing. I do want to answer this more fully in another post, in particular how we relate to them in their last days and the days before burial and afterward. I love you my friend and mentor.
Thank you Betty. I was writing a long response when I got a phone call. When I came back I accidentally deleted it. Anyway, I have had the same haunting shock when looking at pictures of Dan in his last days as well as heart ripping thoughts like, “How could I have been so blind?” Yesterday I cried so hard I got lightheaded. I called Gina incoherently reaching for a “life preserver.” She pulled me to shore where I could breathe again.
Of course you’ve pulled me to shore so many times Mom. As hard as it was to hear you grieving, I was honored to be the one you reached out to.