I have sat down to write this post about a hundred times since April 20th. Each time, I’ve stopped because if I write it, then it will be real and I don’t feel ready for it to be real.
Maybe that feeling never goes away.
My father passed away unexpectedly on April 20th. I went to Canada that day in a state of shock and unreality and spent a whirlwind week with my sister unraveling his life before I had to return to Texas. It was necessary considering all the circumstances, but too much. Too abrupt. Too harried. Too unreal.
I returned home to my family and since then have been wading through grief, trying to figure it out and somehow “do it right.” That sounds so silly, but in the back of my mind there are constant justifications happening as if I have to earn my grief. I find myself suddenly exhausted and google if that’s normal for the grieving. I have to write things down and say them twice to remember them. I have less patience for minor irritations, or, said in a less euphemistic way, I’m prone to overreactions. Every time I don’t drop a ball, I congratulate myself. Is this all grief?
I have read some excellent articles on grief, the “ball in box” analogy; Ten Things About You That Will Change Once You Lose Your Parents; the season of Thaw; Six Hard Truths About Losing a Parent. I understand that grief is individual but there are also commonalities. I understand that there is no justification needed, but I do it anyway. Just the other day, over a month since he passed, I found myself at the store with my sister, overwhelmed with fatigue; I had to get home and lay down. I cried my way through my son’s elementary graduation because I so badly wanted to text my Dad a photo of his handsome little hockey-playing grandson. I cried my way through car shopping – already its own misery – because I wanted to ask my Dad for advice and couldn’t. This past weekend during my daughter’s dance recital, I sat beside a papa bouncing his grandson on his lap. I choked back tears the whole time and narrowly avoided unloading my whole story on the poor unsuspecting stranger. This is all grief.
My sister came to Houston for a visit, planned before we lost our Dad. We cried, we thrifted, we sipped cocktails, and lounged by the pool. We talked about our wishes to honour him and we both had different moments when it hit us. Grief. And now that she’s gone, I’m back to surreality. My Dad wasn’t able to visit me in Houston so the last I saw him was before we left Canada. I had no idea that would be the last time and I wish wish wish I had videotaped what he said to me because I don’t remember, exactly. I remember the essence – encouragement, love, reassurance, affirmation. What I would give for the words. And his voice. So here I sit, wondering again if it’s really true or if it’s just what it was before; me here, him there. It has to be.
I have come to think of grief as cup. I have this cup and it holds love and coping. When my Dad died, God handed me the cup, full. That day, as I cried on the way to the airport, the cup emptied bit by bit. When I found compassion in the eyes of the airport agent who told me I would be on the same plane for both legs of the trip, my cup filled, bit by bit. When I had to clear out my dad’s apartment with my sister, the cup emptied completely and I was left raw. Then I saw my sistahs who hugged me, and my cousins rallied around us to help us, and the first bank teller to assist was a sweet young man who offered condolences, efficiency, and a lovely moment of humour that my Dad would have loved; each time, my cup of grief refilled bit by bit.
I returned to Houston and as I tried to prepare to return to work, my cup tipped and nearly emptied. I resigned. I had no idea how people could carry on working in demanding important jobs within a week of a death. Then I started to get a sense of the refilling and started to pay attention to what empties and what fills my cup of grief. MY cup, by the way, meaning that what fills and empties is unique. I haven’t blogged but have been able to post on Instagram; somehow blogging empties and Instagram fills, allows me to stay connected, stay in routine, stay in my therapeutic hobby. I was invited to a girls’ dinner the day before my sister arrived and almost said no but then I realized that their company pours into me and refills my cup. Some books are filling, some are draining. Some music is filling, some is draining. Sometimes, the emptying is worth it for the refilling, and other times you anticipate being filled up again and are left dry. My daughter’s dance recitals were wonderful and I wouldn’t miss them, but the balance left me emptier and I had to recover with rest. We hosted her birthday party and EVERYONE’S cups were picked up and tipped upsidedown. Thirteen screaming nine-year-olds will do that, plus all the stressors involved in parties. I would still do it, but I wish I had built in some filling moments and a recovery period of not talking. That might sound extreme but it would have saved a fight that happened because my husband and I were flat-out depleted.
As much as I wish I did not carry this cup, I hope to be intentional in keeping it filled from now on. I evaluate situations thinking about my cup of grief and I will prioritize it over other expectations and norms. This summer will not feature daily outings and enriching activities. I just don’t have it in me, or more accurately, in my cup. I won’t knowingly put myself in stressful situations even if I don’t understand why they’re stressing me. I will blog when filled and rest when empty. I will thank God for my husband, keeping us going, keeping on keeping on during this acute time, and yes, it is still acute. I will thank God for the resilience of children and solid friendships that weather the continual emptying and refilling that I now understand to be normal. I will thank God for those who hold space, which might after all be them taking my cup and keeping it still on my behalf.
I think we all carry grief, we all hold cups of grief, whether we are aware of them or not. We all have had losses and each loss counts and leaves us bereft, bereaved. Rather than see that as a sea of vulnerability, I see it as a sea of opportunity to pour into one another in small and mighty ways. The most delightful surprise is that when you fill the cups of others, yours fills in kind. And so, I won’t wish my cup of grief away but will cherish it like a perfect cup of coffee, full of aroma and flavour, meant to be emptied and filled again, full of promise, hope and love.
LU Dad. Until we meet again,