A few months ago, a friend of mine asked me to write a post for her blog. I chose to write a piece about grief because that’s what I was thinking about and dealing with at the time. Today is my dad’s 2 year anniversary of being done with his journey on earth and starting his new adventure in heaven… so it seemed fitting to share the piece in this space on this day.
Psalm 4:8 (HCSB)
I will both lie down and sleep in peace,
for You alone, Lord, make me live in safety.
It’s late. Or early. Either way, I should be sleeping.
I toss and turn yet again and as I roll over I glance at the clock. 5:50 AM.
Before I can stop them, images of my dad flash through my mind. Gasping for air, his lips parched and his eyes blank. His body thin and frail; a shadow of himself - as though it had forgotten what it meant to be whole.
It was just a little before 6 AM on that chilly Wednesday morning almost two years ago that his body took one last breath and then stopped. Forever done with its long, fruitful journey on this earth.
I always seem to wake up around this time, as though my body wants me to relive those last few moments of his life over and over. I hate that I remember his death so vividly, but part of me never wants to forget. Because if I lose that memory then I lose part of him.
Grief is confusing. While it hits all of us in different ways, at some point in each of our lives we all come face to face with loss. Pain. Hurt. And while I’m no expert on dealing with the emotions that accompany death, I’ve collected a few lessons in my on-again-off-again relationship with grief.
Grief comes in waves.
It’s a pretty common analogy, and with good reason: grief can be very well described as waves on the shore. Sometimes they crash with enough force to knock you on your tail as you go under and swallow salt water while grasping for solid ground. And sometimes they gently caress your toes as a simple reminder that these emotions still exist even if they’re held safely beneath the surface.
Some days are harder than others.
For me, anniversaries can be hard. But harder still are the days leading up to those significant birthdays and holidays. It’s as though the wave comes before I expect it and then when the important day arrives and I’m ready and expecting all the emotion to pour of my heart, I feel nothing but emptiness. Maybe the expectation of grief hits me in full force, so that once the anticipated day hits I’m drained of any remaining emotion.
Not all memories are sweet, but all are important.
Some people choose not to watch their loved ones die. Others don’t even get the choice. It’s a painful and traumatic experience for a lot of people. For me, the memory of my dad’s death is one that still haunts me; but I will never ever regret being present for those last few days. While saying goodbye was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, it’s made me a stronger person and it’s helped me appreciate and understand the grief of others. Each moment of that experience has something unique to teach me - even if I don’t know what that is quite yet.
Allowing other people into your grief is hard work.
Maybe it’s just me, but sharing the pain of losing my dad has been an intensely personal and messy experience. It’s messy because sometimes people don’t really know what to say, so they say something cheap and empty. Or sometimes they say too much and you feel overwhelmed. Or sometimes they don’t say enough and you’re left longing for comfort. Or sometimes it’s a mix of all three in one moment and you end up feeling confused and angry with yourself for not even being able to grieve right. As if there was even a right way to grieve.
Grief changes you forever.
Grief isn’t just something that happens to you, it’s something that becomes part of you. Much like giving birth to this new daughter of mine, long after the physical trauma subsides, she will always be part of me - quite literally.
In the same way, grief isn’t just an event with a start and end date, as though one day it will magically disappear. It becomes part of your heart, part of your life, and part of your emotions. You live differently, interact differently, and - most importantly - love differently.
About a year after my dad’s death, his brother (my uncle) shared this poem with me. When I read it, it helps me breathe better; as if I’ve been given permission to not worry about how or when I grieve - but to simply embrace that it will always be present.
by Gwen Flowers
I had my own notion of grief.
I thought it was the sad time
That followed the death of someone you love.
And you had to push through it
To get to the other side.
But I'm learning there is no other side.
There is no pushing through.
There is absorption.
And grief is not something you complete,
But rather, you endure.
Grief is not a task to finish
And move on,
But an element of yourself-
An alteration of your being.
A new way of seeing.
A new definition of self.