On Grieving

My dad died December 18.

The number one question I am asked these days is “How are you doing?” The second is “How is your mom?” (That may even be first….it’s a close call.) Oh, I understand people asking and please don’t feel guilty if you have asked it. I have asked it to other people myself, and I am sure I will continue to do it. It’s fine. It’s something to say. It’s a point of connection. It shows you care. But when you ask, if I pause and say nothing for a while, or look back at you like a deer in the headlights, if I stammer and say something that doesn’t make much sense, or just give a non-answer, please forgive me.

I have no clue how to answer the question. I haven’t reached that point of self-awareness where I know how I am doing,. And I don’t know what people are really asking. It never occurred to me before that I don’t quite understand the  question, even when I was asking it. Am I supposed to answer it good, bad, or OK? (OK is usually my answer of choice, but do any of those words fit?) Am I supposed to give details of my grief? Explain it? That’s something else I am not prepared to do. Am I supposed to answer in the context of how I’m doing compared to life before dad died? Will there ever be a comparison there that could explain? It’s confusing….and I have no clue.  I have lost people I dearly loved before, but this is different. I have no experience with life on earth without my dad.

Basically, I am living my life. I work, I sleep, I spend time with friends and family. I try to regain normal. I suspect part of me is denying the reality. I do that with my great nephew Kaelan, too (who we had lost earlier in the year). Maybe a part of us has to let a piece of our brain go there. It’s almost impossible to fathom earth without either of them. Dad was there every day of my life. Kaelan was supposed to be in it every day for the rest of my life. They are part of the very fabric of who our family was…and were so important to it. It’s hard for the brain to grasp their loss. I guess I compartmentalize the thoughts in my brain and try to forget it. An escape from the reality. Is it really real? Maybe it didn’t happen?

But then something will come up, like when I was taking a picture of the trees in my front yard during the snow and realized my yard looks rather bad. My trees need shaping, I think my butterfly bush needs to be cut down and my knock roses cut back. I had planned to plant more tulip and daffodil bulbs out front this year, and add a hydrangea bush to my yard. But when and where and how? I have no knowledge of that kind of stuff. I didn’t need to. Dad knew it.

I have cried less than I would have thought. I usually cry easily. Possibly I haven’t because Dad was not a crier. McKinneys as a whole are rather stoic and not known for gushing emotion. I’ve always had some of that in me, too. It could be because I am following in dad’s example…how he acted when he lost his parents. Possibly it is the denial, but I don’t usually deny it….part of me is always aware he is gone and misses him every minute. It could be shock or the weirdness of it all. If I am here on this earth, dad should be, too. He had been every day of my life. One of my constants.

Maybe it’s just a continuance of the peace I felt throughout this process of his hospitalization. In the midst of the worse. Never have I had to lean on my faith more, but the peace I have felt through the process astounded me. God seemed so at one with me. Still, noticing God at work often makes me cry. And I haven’t much. It confuses me. Doesn’t worry me, but doesn’t seem like how I would have thought I would have been.

It would have never occurred to me that the most part difficult part of losing my dad would be feeling so inadequate to help my mom. (I felt the same way when Kaelan died and left so many shattered.) I just don’t know what to do. We’re different, have led very different lives, and I can’t really know what she is going through and what she really needs. Everyone has to get through grief in their own way. But thankfully she is taking care of herself just fine. Though life as she has known it for 60 years has been blown to pieces, Mom has been nothing short of amazing. She cries (though mostly when alone), and says she yells at my dad on occasion for leaving her, but then she puts one foot in front of the other and moves. Somewhere. Doing something. By necessity she will have to answer the question “So how do I live now?” I hope the answer to that takes her to great happiness and new adventure. I think it will. She is a good planner and a good decision maker and a vital person. She has a lot to give to this world. She is a people person and hasn’t been on her own, ever. She’s starting to think it through, to think of what she will need going forward. That’s good and healthy. She does no honor to my dad by refusing to move. In fact, she honors the strength they built in each other by continuing to live well. He would want that for her.

One thing I know about grief…..none of us do it the same way. I think my siblings are handling dad’s death similarly to me,  but yet not the same. Truly we don’t talk about it much.  Not that it is taboo, but I think we understand each other so don’t need to. Mom, our verbal parent, has probably gotten us each to talk about it the most, without even trying. But she doesn’t push…and won’t…and I suspect even she just gets a few sentencs from each of us here and there. That’s enough.

Three friends of mine lost parents within weeks of me. We’re all dealing with it differently. We all have different needs, different perspectives, different ways to grieve. If you are wondering how to help people grieving, know there is no special formula. Just be there. Don’t avoid them. Try to see where they are. Ask them what you can do can help. Don’t be surprised if you get no answer. Try to figure out what they need and help them through it, but meet them where they are. How you would handle things is probably not the way they will do it. We are all so different. And grief can make us weird. We may not even understand what is going on ourselves and why we react a certain way.

As for me… most times I don’t want to have long conversations with you about it. We had six weeks of the horrors of intensive care hospital time before his death, and it was difficult, stressful, and all kinds of exhausting. Then hospice. Then death. I got sick hours before dad died and spent the days before the memorial service on my own. It was fine. God must have known the introvert needed to be forced to have alone time.

If you are my friend, I don’t want you to stay away. There is no greater reminder that life is short than a parent dying. For me that means I want to live life. I don’t want to sit around by myself and cry. I want my friends around. I want to laugh. I want to play. I want to try new things. I want the comfort of the old good things. I want hugs and love. I don’t want to make a lot of decisions…so suggestions are great. I’m trying to engage, but sometimes the thought of it is exhausting. Someone telling me what we are doing is good. I will tell you if I don’t want to or if the timing isn’t right. You know me. I will exercise veto power.

The notes people have sent, the simplest of words comforting. The memorials to his life, so thoughtful and kind and sometimes imaginative. The flowers and plants. The texts. The phone calls. The stories people have told and words of what dad meant to them. People who showed up at the memorial service during a weekday, Christmas week, some just hearing about it hours before. So many other things they could have been doing, but they chose to be there for us. Reminders that our family is made up of more than shared blood. It all means so much.

So how am I doing? OK this minute. But it will be a long term adjustment. The number one man in my life is no longer around for me. The loss will be with me every day, for the rest of my life. But still, I will live. It’s what I want….what God wants….and what Dad would want for me.

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3 thoughts on “On Grieving

  1. My husband passed June 27, 2016. I know it's been 6 months, but it still feels like yesterday. My only solace is that he no longer is in pain (as he was for the last 30 years). We knew his time was limited on this earth, more so than the average person, but when it happened, I wasn't as prepared as I thought.Your words gave me comfort in knowing that I'm not crazy, I don't owe it to anybody to act like I'm okay when I'm not. I owe it to myself to be whatever the next version of the next chapter of my life gives me.And whatever that is … I'm still figuring it out.

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  2. Teebobob….I've been thinking of you and praying for you. You don't owe anyone an explanation for your grief, nor does it ever have to have an expiration date. In fact, missing him the rest of your life is definitely OK. Still, I hope you also take time to celebrate his life and what you shared….in whatever special way you can come up with. As you make plans for the next chapter, your main goal should be to live joyfully and celebrate the beautiful, and to live your purpose. That purpose may have changed, it may be hidden in your past, it may be something new, or be a fire burning that needs some wood. It's important that you find it, because the world still needs you. God bless you in your pursuit.

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