By all serious accounts, I am very much new to the “club” when it comes to grief.
It’s been just over a month since my life turned upside down.
I lost my grandfather and my father within a week’s time. In both cases, both men had been dealing with serious, long-term illnesses. And yet both of them passing away happened about as quickly, and as unexpectedly, as you could consider it to be, even despite their declining health.
Once a person who thought she had a grasp on the happenings of life, I realize that I am now being schooled in something entirely new: profound grief.
Being leveled doesn’t even begin to describe any of what’s still happening to me, to my family. As a blogger, I’m doing the one thing that I can to retain my sanity in bits and pieces: I’m writing.
Truly, the outpouring from those around me has been tremendous. When in comes to the abundance of prayers and steadfast loyalty of those around me, I could not be richer.
Still. When it comes to processing everything that has happened, while facing days ahead filled with constant reminders of what has happened, I feel very much on my own.
Here are truths I am slowly learning about grief:
You will feel like you weren’t enough
How many conversations or memories have I played back in my head over the last few weeks? The last time we watched Fourth of July fireworks together. The last time we carved pumpkins. The last phone call. The last time I said goodbye, completely unaware that the world was about to cave in.
I couldn’t tell you the number.
How I wish I could have made those last goodbyes something more. How I wish I could have given one more hug, one more kiss on the forehead. How I wish I could pick up the phone and talk about the weather, the kids or the migrating geese flocking overhead that mark the change of the season.
I judge myself as a daughter and granddaughter based on the actions of the last few weeks, when the truth is that perfect goodbyes don’t always exist. In our case, we were lucky enough to gather at the bedsides of those men we loved to pray over them, and love them into the next life.
That is more than so many get, I know.
To dissect the tiniest fragments and pieces of our lives together does us no favors. When I look back over the years though, in both cases, I am fortunate to be able to say that in each moment, I loved them both as best I could.
The feeling of not being enough is a lie, the inner workings of an enemy bent on our destruction. I wasn’t supposed to be “enough” for them. I could only be their child, their grandchild. For every shortcoming, the love between us, and the love that is still left behind, can be the salve for nearly every bruise if we let it.
You can’t rewrite what’s happened
There are moments I’m not proud of. There are moments where I failed my dad, and those shortcoming are sometimes an angry slap across my face when I’m laying awake in the middle of the night, wondering what I could have done differently.
“You don’t get to make up most of your story. You get to make peace with it.”
– Ann Voskamp
The last few weeks have served as a stark reminder that I, we, are not in control.
We wonder if maybe by some action of our own we could have changed everything if we had said or done something different; been different. One of the worst things that we can do is believe that we somehow could have changed everything if we had only…
Grief is a nuanced thing. At times, I’m learning, you put yourself on trial. And you are your own worst accuser. Because maybe if you had picked up the phone more, said you were sorry sooner, seen what was coming around the bend, you could have controlled the outcome. Which just isn’t true.
It’s a road we shouldn’t even tempt ourselves to go down. Easier said than done in some of our darkest moments, but no less true. What’s happened is what’s happened.
What might bring us eventual healing is trying to make peace with it.
There is no such thing as perfect goodbyes, because there is no such thing as perfect people.
We gathered around my dad’s bedside as his life was slipping away, and tears quietly rolled down our cheeks. We played The Beatles for him, held his hands while they were still warm, and watched the lines on the monitor flatten while all of our insides hurt beyond the telling of it.
We were with him when he transitioned. As much as it hurt, and though it didn’t feel at all like it, those last moments were an extraordinary gift that I will never forget.
Still, afterwards my mind couldn’t help but almost immediately sprint towards all of the unresolved things that still lingered. All of the things that I had had faith would be satisfied before this time came. The things that hurt. I was piling pain upon pain until it almost crushed me.
I thought we’d all have a chance to individually make peace with everything, and with each other. So much has happened in our lives during the last ten years as he grew sicker and sicker. In that slow unraveling for him, we all lashed out at one another out of fear and pain. Before that even, we had all failed each other magnificently at one point or another.
About two years ago, I wrote my dad a note and left it in his hospital room as I was leaving, after he had drifted off to sleep. In it, I thought I told him everything I had ever wanted to. It seemed premature, but I felt that it was something that needed to be done. Still, just two years later, there are hundreds of words that I wish I could have told him before the end finally came.
I imagine that’s how the rest of my days will be. We are no longer a phone call or short drive away from each other. And every trivial thing that happens in my day is something that I will always wish I could share with him.
I mostly just wish I could tell him how much I miss him.
I don’t know if that final goodbye will ever come to feel like the final period at the end of a sentence. I don’t know if the days ever turn from feeling like my mind is an endless, churning river, upturning stones after stones to see what I find. I don’t know if I will ever feel like myself again. Then again, what is normal even after loss?
I just know now that my job is to let it be.
Though the temptation to hang on, want more, do more will always be palpable, I know that for me, for all of us, the two men that we have lost would wish on us a life spent chasing the sun, welcoming the future and all the gifts that it holds.
Indeed, the future could never hope to be as bright if they weren’t here before to light the way.