Sunday, November 11, 2012
Since the moment my dad went on ahead, I've noticed a pattern of paradoxes that has emerged: as he took his last breath, I was simultaneously glad he wasn't suffering anymore but so sad for so many other reasons. I was grateful to have had him in my life for as long as I did, but I felt (and still feel) angry, resentful, and desolate about the fact that I didn't have more time with him. And after spending time helping to care for him around the clock during the ten weeks he was sick, with his passing I suddenly felt restless and fidgety - but at the same time I felt wearier than I had ever felt in my life, with the dull ache of grief settling into my bones from the first day I had to spend without him.
Over the course of the past 22 months since my dad died, I've gotten better at some things and worse at others. The dichotomies of these changes in me have been very unexpected, unfamiliar, and sometimes even unexplainable; all of them, however, came as a result of the impact of loss and have caused me to have to reorganize my thinking and my patterns of actions in many ways.
When my dad got sick and throughout the duration of his illness, I felt like I had been forced to take off my rose-colored glasses; from that point on, I couldn't avoid thinking that Karma was essentially bullshit and that there's no such thing as justice. That was nothing, though, compared to the thoughts that came after his death; at that point, those same glasses were shattered, in pieces, smashed on the ground. I know now that there's not much - if any - control to be had over bad things happening to anyone, including me, at any time. I guess I always thought that real insurance (and assurance) came from the kind of cause-and-effect relationship that I believed in before my dad got sick: if you live a good life, both in terms of being kind and giving and in taking good care of yourself, then you will live for a long time. How can one NOT see the logic behind that? But, as I came to see, that is absolutely not true.
The realization of such randomness has effected two contrasting feelings in me - a sense of fearlessness, because, really, carefulness doesn't matter, and also a sense of terror, because, really, carefulness doesn't matter. I don't know if that even makes sense - but I do know that the fluctuation between those two things can be exhausting and confusing, and I haven't yet been able to figure out how to reason away either of them. I can see myself walking on a tightrope suspended high over the ground - and I can picture myself cowering in the corner. Both with blaring vulnerability, and not at all the way I want to be.
Since my dad's diagnosis, I've done a lot of reading about cancer. Every time I read something or hear something about risk factors and early warning signs, I feel a knot in my gut. I want to yell a warning of my own to people who may also be reading the same information: Nothing is for sure. No one is safe. You can try to live clean, you can do all the right things, you can deprive yourself, you can avoid risks, you can live on a deserted island with no radiation, no cell phones, no microwaves, and you can eat whatever kind of diet you think is best, but YOU ARE STILL NOT SAFE. And so there is the anger - and the fear that fuels it. For like C.S. Lewis wrote, "No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear."
And it does; it really does. Fear brings out so many things that I just don't believe were present in me before this tragedy - fear that there is something lurking, fear that I have no control over anything, fear that I am messing something up along the way that cannot be taken back, fear that time may be limited for me or for someone else I love, fear that I may go off into the deep end, fear that I am too indentured in grief and loss to do what I am supposed to be doing, physically and philosophically.
One thing that continues to shock me about grief is how draining it is, both physically and emotionally, even this far out. It's such an assault to the system on so many levels. But, with as tired as I feel most of the time now, here's another irony: I often can't sleep. Many nights a memory involving my dad plays over and over in my mind. Sometimes that thought is a happy one; other times it isn't. Regardless, though, and even when I'm not thinking about him, the insomnia seems to have set up camp on a permanent basis, further adding to my weariness. That tiredness affects my health, as expected, and also, I'm sure, my attention span and my short-term memory, which haven't been at their best either for quite some time.
The way things are now, I have to work to see the magic in things much of the time. It's still there; at least I am aware of that - it's just that I have to remind myself of it, and I know I am at risk for not seeing it as I used to do so easily.
Sometimes all I want to do is to be by myself, to regroup or to cry or at times just to keep from spreading my sadness any more than I have to. At other times, though, I can hardly stand to be alone; I recognize that I need to be around people, especially those who care about me and - even better - those who know what's going on with me and those who try to understand.
I am, I think, much better at being supportive to others in difficult situations and more empathetic or, in some cases, sympathetic towards others these days. Don't get me wrong: I cared when I heard about people going through hard times before my dad got sick; I just didn't GET IT on the level that I do now. I now realize that it's a blessing to me to be in a position to help someone else who needs support, and I think I'm more in tune with what to say or do in certain situations because of my own experiences over the past couple of years.
At the same time,though, I am less tolerant of what I have come to see as drivel and drama. I have a hard time nodding in complacent agreement when I hear someone say they just had the worst day of their lives – really? Did you hear that someone you love has a death sentence coming down the pipe? Did you watch a loved one die? Did you bury a family member today? Then your day wasn’t all that bad. OR – when people say “I almost died!” when they’re talking in superlatives like “I was so shocked” or “It was so hot” – really? From listening to complaining to watching someone make a big deal out of what is essentially nothing, I guess I am just more intolerant of certain things these days, which admittedly isn't fair of me, considering I certainly need more than my fair share of tolerance and understanding from those around me much of the time.
I read several blogs written by fellow grievers, each with their own set of circumstances, story, and timeline, and each with lessons for me along the way. One thing I am more aware of now is that constant talk about sadness and anger and unfairness aren't necessarily the most pleasant to read, and more to the point aren't the most productive. I think we as a society see something that is broken, and we try to fix it; when we are sick, we do what it takes to get well. And I think as such our tendency is to want to hurry up and heal or to get over our grief as quickly as we can, but I'm not sure that's the right thing to do. Most people who are actively grieving seem to be doing it in private for the most part, and maybe that's not the right idea either.
And so then there's the guilt, and the shame, and the secrecy of the sadness of it all, which is a point of sadness within itself. I realize this may seem a bit sensationalized, or repetitive, or self-centered, as if I think I am the only person who has ever suffered a loss. I don't mean for it to be like that - I guess I am just searching for some kind of answers, and, oddly I know, I also realize that those answers really don't exist. There is no pattern to grief; there is no to-do list that will ease the pain of the loss. It truly is what it is, because, as Dad would say, what else would it be?
Some of the changes I think are positive though ... I am much more observant of the Silver Linings in my life; I don't go a day without recognizing how lucky I am, even on my worst days of grieving.
I take more pictures.
I appreciate the positive in my life - and the people, even more than I did before.
I write more - because it helps me to sort out my feelings, and because one of the things that hurts the most about having lost my dad is realizing that some of his stories are gone, too, and I want to try to save as many of those as I can.