For those who gave such lovely, warm support on part one of “What I wish I’d known about grief,” thank you. Thank you more than I can say. I continue to be surprised at how kind people have been, including strangers and people I’ve only met once or twice. There is something universal about losing a parent, no matter what our individual circumstances might be.
I am not grateful to have lost a father, and I am not grateful to enter the halls of grief. But I am grateful to be surrounded by a sister and brotherhood of those who have walked this path before me.
I get a little teary when I see and hear about people who have lost a parent since Dad died. I take a deep breath and can feel the fresh waves of new grief almost as if I just heard the news again. Words are never enough, but I offer my prayers and love. Losing a parent takes a minute (even if the dying process took years). Learning how to live without a parent takes a lifetime.
Grief is actually a topic that is part of my real-world, vanilla self. It’s part of what I research and write about. I’ve come to this experience with a lot of academic knowledge and secondhand experience, and I consider myself better informed than the average person when it comes to grief.
I mean, I sat in a hospice house for months to hold hands with patients as they waited to die. I’m not a stranger to death.
And, yet, there are still many things I wish I’d known.
I wish I’d known one month in (it’s been four weeks as of yesterday) that my head would still pound with incessant aching that sometimes verges on dizziness.
I wish I’d known the hospital-vigil need for soft, bland food would continue. Jello is my friend, as are bananas, apple juice, soup, oatmeal, tea, and sweets in very small amounts. Sometimes I say heck with it and have ordinary food (usually if someone has invited me for a meal). My stomach gets mad afterward, but so far it’s been worth it.
I wish I’d been prepared for the complete inability to make decisions. I make them eventually because I have to, but I have to ask people not to give me choices. Don’t ask where or when I’d like to meet. Don’t ask what I’d like to do. Give me the option to show up or not, but other than that my decision-making powers have to be saved for essential questions.
I wish I’d known that people I barely knew would send me cards, emails, text messages, and sweet notes. Even if it’s only, “Sorry for your loss,” it’s someone who has taken time and effort to express concern for me.
I wish I’d known how much I’d need support for me. Just me. Not for my family members or other people who were involved, but for me alone. I was so consumed (in the early days) by making sure my mom was okay that the consequences were not great for me individually. Here, my academic knowledge is helpful. I’ve taken some steps to get support, and little by little I’m setting goals for what I can do. Today, it’s been cleaning out my fridge and setting up a new water filtration pitcher.
I wish I’d known that grief and insanity can seem identical (not that I’ve experienced true insanity), and grief would take away my greatest coping strategy–my mind. I’m a thinker. I’m a processor. As long as I can analyze and intellectualize, I’m good. Once my brain disintegrated into chaos, I felt stripped of my powers. Defenseless.
I have struggled with cognitive function in the past (when I was taking so much medication for severe allergies that it interfered with my ability to write), but that was years ago. Now, I spend hours staring at my screen and trying to process information.
In the first few days and the first week or so after Dad died, people were patient with my “grief brain.” Now, people are less patient as they depend on me for various tasks. It’s been a month, after all. Isn’t it time to get back to normal? I have responsibilities, after all.
One analogy I’ve heard (that is helpful) is that the brain becomes so overwhelmed by the physiological and emotional reactions to grief that it shuts down all but essential functions. It’s as if it pulls up the drawbridge so it can focus on healing. I’ve also heard that the time to worry is not one month after a death, but after a few months. Until then, it’s normal for our bodies and minds to freak out.
I’m held hostage by my own mind, the part of me I value most and depend on in difficult times.
Heal, I want to say. C’mon, hurry up. I have things I need to do. Work beckons, and bills need to be paid. Taxes need to be filed. Houses need to be cleaned before company comes to stay.
Another piece of advice that’s been helpful has been this:
The worst grief you’ll experience is your own.
Is it harder or easier if this or that happens? Is my situation worse or better than someone else’s? I’ve spent a good deal of time playing that game, and I’m trying to let it go. I lost my father. It’s a big loss. That’s all that matters to me now, right? I don’t need permission to grieve. My tantruming body and soul have seen to that. I can’t ignore this grief, even if I’d like to.
I wish I’d known, one month after my father died, that I would long for moments of laughter. Socializing is overwhelming and I return home exhausted, but a shared smile alleviates pain better than any Advil.
I wish I’d known that words might fail me, and conversation might become difficult…but that I would treasure every note, email, card, and text message I received. I’ve said a simple “thank you” to so many people because I couldn’t manage anything else.
I long for the day when I can think of Dad without crying, and I wait not so patiently for a time when memories will bring pleasure instead of pain. I’m so afraid I will forget him, but I can only go through so many boxes of tissues.
I wish I’d known losing Dad might be the worst thing that’s happened to me so far, but the loss would be accompanied by more love and support than I’ve received in my life.
But in times of sorrow, the kindness of everyone around me restores my faith in humanity.
Dad would be so surprised at this effect–he was the most humble man I’ve known. He wanted things to be simple, loving, and good. As he was.
If you have a family member nearby, or if you have someone who is like family, please give him or her a hug. The love we receive is so precious.
Blessings to you today.