I woke from a dream about my Dad this morning. He looked exactly as he did in the weeks before his death eighteen months ago. He looked tired. When I was fully awake, I knew (again) that he was gone and I sobbed. I miss my Dad – the Dad who had been a superhero, as my Mom had been, throughout my life. Crying seemed the only way to release the sadness, so I cried.
I used to think that grief came in waves, but that is not how it feels to me now. I love standing at the water’s edge and watching the waves come rhythmically to the shore. Some are bigger than others, but you see every one of them as it approaches. Grief does not work that way. It is unpredictable. You do not see it coming. Grief is like a bolt of lightning, fast and furious and striking out of nowhere. That is how grief feels to me today, all of these months after my Dad’s death.
The moment Dad died, our family immediately focused our love and attention on Mom. We shoved our own grief deep down, choosing to be strong for Mom and for each other. Or at least that is what I think we did and why we did it. But maybe not. Maybe the grief was too hard to face into. Maybe I pushed my grief away and focused all of my attention on Mom because that was somehow easier to do. I cried a lot, of course, but I did not allow myself to feel the full weight of Dad’s death. I was determined to be strong, and to do that I put most of my grief “on hold.”
Eight months later, Mom fell and was very badly hurt. She was in the hospital for five days, and then we brought her home for the final weeks of her life. A few days before Mom died, she told us that Dad had prepared a beautiful garden for her. Mom said, “He keeps pestering me to come but I told him, ‘Not yet.’” Three days later, she was ready.
When Mom died, our family grieved heavily. We grieved for her and we grieved for Dad, and we loved each other through the pain and loss and sadness that came with Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and Mom and Dad’s birthdays, both in June. We gratefully received the love and many expressions of sympathy and support from dear friends. Then we emptied and sold the home where Mom and Dad had lived for over sixty years, the home where they crossed from this life to the afterlife. And we cried through it all.
Just last week I thought I had cleared the last remnants of grief, but this morning I realized I was wrong. Lightning struck again, sparked by a dream, and I felt the raw, jagged pain of missing my Dad. A week or a month from now, it is possible that some song, some dream, some something will spark a deep feeling of missing my Mom. What I am learning though all of this is that my usual way of dealing with things, my lists and schedules and careful planning, mean very little. Lightning strikes when it will. All I can do is promise to try to see the beauty of my grief, the proof that my love for my parents, and their love for me, is as strong as ever. And maybe even stronger.
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I also posted this piece today on AwakeningYourTrueSelf.com