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.