Grief is such a strange thing. Today marks 20 years since my father passed away. I was 19. The memories come flooding back as I type these words. The day was filled with commotion. One of my sisters was trying to travel across two states to see him before he died.
She did not make it.
I answered the phone and tried to pass her off to my mother. She said; ‘just tell me’.
It was a peaceful night and morning. I had been sleeping on the sofa in the living room as daddy had been moved to a hospital bed in our dining room. Mom was up and sitting with him off and on. At one point she called me in to observe his breathing.
“I think his breathing has slowed.” “Yep. It has.”
I went back to sleep.
In the morning as mom was making breakfast she called me in to look at him again. No rise and fall of the chest. No sound of air passing through his lungs or nose. Then he took a breath in, held it, let it out. It was his last.
The night before, some of the family had gathered. Dad was talking, joking. We each took a few moments with him alone. I told him that I knew he needed to go but that he was supposed to walk me down the aisle at my wedding someday, he was supposed to be with me through the many coming changes to my life. I held his hand. I told him we would be OK. The hospice literature and nurses assured us that these were the right things to say to him as he held on, it’s OK to let go…we will be fine.
I still am not ‘fine’.
At first I was depressed. I had left college to be with him for what turned out to be his last month of life. I never returned. I turned inward for several months. It took years to not fall apart on every birthday, anniversary, Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, flag day, sunny day, snowy day, rainy day…
His death shook me. Changed me. Changed all of us.
December 7 was also the birthday of one of my brothers. I am sure he never truly recovered. He was not with us through the process of saying goodbye, he was not at the funeral.
My brother died two months after 9/11. My sister died last Christmas. They both struggled so much with the loss of our father.
The rest of my siblings and my family finally no longer call each other on December 7 to cry over the phone. We no longer call on dad’s birthday or mom and dad’s anniversary. I can barely wrap my mind around 20 years past. There is a space in my heart and life that will always wish he were here with me, with us.
This year is supposed to be about me letting go of some long-held ‘stuff’ in my life, figuratively and literally. As I de-clutter my home and my heart, I rediscover anew the things that have truly meant the most to me in life. People. Love. Relationship. Honesty. Loyalty. Integrity. Laughter. Tears. Connection. Grief.
Yes. Even grief. If I do not grieve someone’s dying, then I must have completely missed out on their living. That could very well be the saddest thing I could ever imagine.