Thursday, January 5, 2012
One Year Later
It’s been one year today since my dad went on ahead. I still can’t fully grasp that he was sick or that he is gone. I wonder if the other people who were involved a year ago remember things differently from how they play out in my memory. Maybe my eyes weren’t wide open, likely my memories aren’t all 100%, almost surely my perspective is just my view through a viewfinder.
But here we are, one year later. I know that living through this experience has changed each of us individually and changed us as a group. And while we now bear a sadness that will never completely go away, we carry a strength and certain knowledge that shape our lives and influence everything we do.
One thing I am sure that everyone connected to my family’s tragedy would agree on is that what happened was shocking and awful. We are surviving only through the closeness, connection, learning, insights, love, and support that we have had and continue to have. And, despite the time that has gone by and perhaps even because of it, I am still deeply engaged in the grief process right now. Even through the fog of that grief, though, I feel a lot of love and appreciation, both for my dad’s life and all he taught me and for the experience of being with him during my whole life and through his sickness and his death. What I’m trying to figure out how to do now is to be happy without him physically being present, to think messages to him instead of telling him directly, to see something beautiful like a perfect sunset and not fall apart because he can’t see it, to experience joy in things and to keep my heart from breaking over and over because he can’t be here to celebrate with us, to go to sleep without crying, to remember without falling apart.
Shakespeare said, “Sorrow ends not when it seemeth done.” How very true! The persistence of grief and its changing nature have been very surprising to me. I’ve heard it said that grief is a measure of one’s love, and from my perspective that appears to be true: we may shed a tear or feel sad when someone whom we didn’t really know or love dies, but that’s not really grief, at least not the same kind we experience when someone whom we love and who is part of the foundation of the person we are dies. That kind brings us to our knees, causes a burning pain in our hearts that does not diminish over time, and colors everything we do and think and say. It sounds like a symphony playing with one instrument that’s really out of tune, and it changes who we are.
One of my sisters told me that she recently read that coming to terms with a loved one's death is like ramming a log into a door. Eventually it will get through, but, until then, it's noisy, exhausting, frustrating, and painful at times. She said that looking at grief in that way gives her hope that one day what we will feel is gratefulness for having had Dad for as many years as we did, happiness when we remember him, and a sense of pride at how we rallied and came together to take care of him when he needed us. But for now, the grief is still so thick and ever-present, and perspective is something for which we struggle on a daily basis.
Besides missing my dad and feeling the pain of his absence to my very core, something that gets to me now is the pressure to have moved on, to have gotten over it, to have “healed” (a word I hate in this context). I’m not going to go back to “normal” - I will never be the person I was before my dad got sick. I can't stand it when someone dies and people keep saying, “Be strong!” or "Hang in there!" to the family. Really? Why is that what’s being recommended? (And what other options are there, really?) While I, of course, recognize and appreciate the kind intentions behind remarks like these, all of these platitudes only serve to fuel my anger at the injustice, the ridiculousness, and the absurdity of a very healthy person like my dad getting sick and never getting better.
So here I am, one year later. The loss feels different now, and the same. And so do I. I know that I am still my dad’s daughter and that all he taught me is right here with me, as he is in spirit, but I am undeniably changed.