My life changed six weeks ago. It will never be the same. My dad died. My world as I knew it was turned upside down. The man who loved me unconditionally was gone.
It's common for people my age to lose their parents, in fact three of my close friends lost their parents within a month of each other. But, this was different, it was my turn now. This pain didn't belong to someone else. This emptiness and loneliness was all mine. I wasn't ready. I didn't want to be the recipient of the "I'm so sorry" or "Was he ill?" questions or comments. And the last thing I wanted to hear was "welcome to the Orphan Club."
I wasn't ready to surrender my daily call(s) to my dad. I needed to fill him in on Jamie's latest audition and kvell about Hallie's good grades. He needed to know about Jackie's internship, Ellie's loose tooth and Harry's computer class. And what about my new show idea? And who was going to tell me to be nicer to my husband?
I wasn't done listening about his Google escapades or lectures on Global warming and the glaciers. I wasn't done hearing him rant about the cutbacks to his medicaid plan or the $4.99 barbeque chicken at Costco.
This wasn't happening. It all seemed so surreal.
My kids held me the night I found out he died. I cried for what seems like hours. My husband says they wouldn't leave my side. It's all a blur to me.
Six weeks later and I am still adjusting to my loss, albeit the numbness is fading a bit. I find myself picking up the phone to call him. When my phone rings, I expect to see "Daddy" pop up on the screen. I have to catch myself before inviting my son to "call Grandpa and tell him about the philosophy class you're taking," or have my daughter "ask Grandpa to explain the effects of the glacial divide." The disappointment isn't waning. Maybe the expectation is. A dear friend told me to take my time with this grieving process; that everyone grieves differently and at their own pace.
Unfortunately, this grieving process isn't as cookie cutter as Kubler-Ross explained. Just last week, I had to pull over as my 6- and 9-year-old belted out a song from Frozen because I remembered how Grandpa loved hearing them sing. I felt my eyes well up after laughing at a comment my very witty 17-year-old made knowing how much her grandpa loved her humor.
These overwhelming feelings are made of pure emotion. They are raw, even childlike and appear with no warning. They are filled with sadness, anger, rage and joy.
Just yesterday amidst the tomato plants at Home Depot I had an "episode." (Who knew what a Roma fern could do to a woman). I quietly put on my sunglasses, walked to my car and cried.
I've been traveling a lot since my father died; into the past, that is. I have been back to 1972 and the end of the Vietnam era as Peter Paul and Mary played in the distance. I visited Brooklyn circa 1976 as the BiCentennial was being celebrated and we watched bottlerockets spring off the neighbor's garage roof. I have been blessed to have held my dad's hand while gazing at Niagra Falls, lucky enough to see every summer stock show the Berkshires had to offer. From Disneyworld to the Smithsonian to selling Indian corn at South Street Seaport, I have my memories.
And in my memories I am not alone. My dad is right there with me. From skinned knees as a child to the broken heart of a teen, through my marriage(s), births of my children, career changes. These memories are comforting and I am secure there because he can't be plucked from them. They allow me to remember the man I still call Daddy. My memories allow me to smile.
I find myself in my closet a lot. (no coming out story here -- sorry). I have a button down sweater of my dad's that still smells like him. I wrap it around me and cling to it from time to time. It's calming and comforting. I know though that as time passes this comforting smell of "Daddy" will fade and once again I will turn to that "memory box" that lives in my heart.
I am learning a lot through this process called grief. It's very intimate and shows up differently for everyone. There is no time limit or way it's supposed to be. I do look at life differently though. I wonder what memories my children will have of me. I make it a point to put my cell down more often than not because I don't want them to remember me as a Facebook junkie. I listen more. I want to hear what they have to say even if they've said it 40 times before. And I guess hearing the Frozen soundtrack for the hundredth time isn't that bad.
My grief has led me to a new sense of awareness about what is important and relevant in my life and the lives I touch. Sometimes, saying "I love you" is all it takes to let someone know they matter. I took a walk this morning for the first time in about a month. I actually felt the sun, stopped and smelled the neighbor's roses and realized that my yard doesn't look as bad as some of the others.
It was the first time in weeks that I felt alive.
There is no hiding from this grief and it is a stranger to no one. My dad used to tell me that if I wanted something, I needed to make it happen. He reminded me of the old man in Spencer Johnson's Precious Present: "The precious present has nothing to do with wishing."
I think it's time hubby and I take a "family walk" (no cell phones). My kids deserve an arsenal of memories and my husband needs to know he is cherished.