For those who stumble upon this post simply because you were searching for a DIY project or recipe, you’re in for something different today. My father, Stan, passed away four weeks ago – complications from an illness that plagued him for the past 5 or so years. He was 67, and even though I knew he was sick, I think I had convinced myself he would always “bounce back”. Needless to say, it felt sudden to me.
This post is for my friends who have been asking after me since the passing of my father. I thought it would be helpful to me to write out my thoughts, and perhaps helpful for you and maybe others to read it.
How am I? I’m fine. Really. Seems weird huh?
I’m fine because I can’t cope being any other way. I’m either fine – this very controlled state which I’m currently residing – or I’m desperately hurting.
I’m laughing, surfing the web, being lazy, going for walks, cooking dinner – with grief just a moment away, like it’s something hovering behind me. It may appear as if life is functioning as it did 5 weeks ago – but I’m a different person. It’s so hard to articulate, I feel as if I’ve deepened some cavern in my soul. Something has happened in my life that is terribly sad and changed my path. Physically, I can’t be conscious of all that’s happened, but it’s happened. I don’t want to ignore it. I don’t want you to ignore it. But I can’t express my anger or grief readily for all to see. So please, ask me about it. I want to be asked. My carrying on as normal is not a sign that I’m done with it or that I don’t want to talk about it. I do.
I often find my emotions shutting off with a flip of a switch. Suddenly I can’t be sad. I can’t be angry. Try as hard as I might…there’s nothing there to draw on. I wonder if that’s a safety mechanism. Are the feelings too great for me to handle?
SO, If I want to function in any way, I can’t allow myself to “go there”. Most of the time I ignore it. When I can’t ignore it, a long drive in our radio-less car, a shower, struggling to fall asleep, those are the moments I start to see pictures. Flashes of my dad. His hands – his squared thumbnail, his rings. His hugs – pats on the back, the smell of his leather jacket. His laugh – his chipped front tooth, cracking lips, squeaky eye rub, the amusement on his face. His hospital visits – his thoughtful eyes, chapped lips, tired body.
I see flashes of our last visit at his house together. Two days before he went to the hospital for the last time, I gave him a hug as he sat on the couch, exhausted from pain. He took my palm in his palm and kissed the back of my hand gently. I can still feel it.
I wonder if he knew how sick he was then? Why didn’t I ask? Why wouldn’t he tell me? Two days later when I overheard my dad, my very own dad, tell the doctor that he was tired and ready to let his body go, absolute shock washed over me. My internal dialogue: “There has been a mistake. We shouldn’t be here. This isn’t happening. There is no way they will let that happen.” He saw me crying. To the best of his ability at the time, in all his pain he asked me if I understood. I told him I understood…but that didn’t mean I had to be happy about it.
Then he needed privacy for the nurses to tend to him, I was ushered out and spoke with the doctor about what this all meant. Why didn’t I ask him if he was scared? Why didn’t I listen better? Less than 24 hours later, he would be gone.
The thoughts of his physical presence, our tangible moments together are painful enough to remember, only because I can’t replicate them. There’s no more hugs, exchange of jokes, FroYo, or card games.
With these flashes come deeper questions. What happens now? He won’t be here when Matt and I have our first child. He won’t see me become a mom. He won’t be here to help me. And I need his help. I need my dad.
Why can’t I remember his theories on heaven? My faith has been shaken a bit, though I assume in a way that is expected and natural. For instance I find myself thinking, “I just wish I knew where he was…that it is real.”
Then come flashes of a deep festering anger. What he dedicated his life to, the church, it hurt him deeply. That’s all too common a story. My father was a super complicated person. One instance being the most warm, thoughtful and inquisitive person ever, the next he could be difficult, and set firm boundaries that often made him seem unapproachable to others. But I have to tell you…one thing that has stood out to me about who my father was that was so perfectly put by many at his memorial, is that he was someone that would SHOW UP for people. Regardless of their bullshit, their story, their difficult personalities, their broken lives. It was about them and he listened well and journeyed with people. He set aside the freakishly difficult and complex stories people brought to him…just to be present with them. He did that for people, people didn’t return the favor. I know he wasn’t perfect, trust me I do. There are times when I feel so angry at him for different reasons. But I don’t remember there being a rule that we only show up to help, understand, love, and support perfect people, or only when someone is easy to help. That’s certainly not what he did. Where was grace when he needed it?
My anger fades into a river of gratitude when I remember that there were indeed people looking out for him, people showing up. They saw the truth of what was happening in his life. The truth of how much grace he was still carrying for so many, even as they mistreated him. I am truly indebted to those who gave this brilliant and sick man, my father, a chance to live in to his full potential before he passed away. What an absolute gift they gave him. It’s all so terribly tragic and so hard to think about.
It seems he has left a chasm of complexity for me to weed through in every area of my life. The stress has subsided, which I’m grateful for, though I’m still left without him and without his affirmation for the decisions that I’ve made and will be making.
The night after he passed away, I was trying to fall asleep. I was tearful, restless. Guilt overwhelmed me. Did I do things right? Is he ok? I kept remembering things we talked about, and it was weighing down on my chest. It felt that if I exhaled, I wouldn’t have the strength to push against the weight and fill my lungs again. Suddenly I was aware of a presence in my room. It felt like my dad’s spirit was there. I was sure of it. I heard in my mind my dad’s voice say, “I’m sorry Sweetie.” A sad calm washed over me. I could breathe more easily. I’m grateful for that moment, even though it was hard.
See what I mean? What if I just walked around all day every day feeling all this crap? I can’t do it. But it hits me when I least expect it. While grocery shopping I saw a man who looked a lot like my dad. Same hair, leather jacket, gait, shoes, skin tone. I stopped and stared at him. If there had been any closer resemblance I would have asked him for a hug. I walked away to the cereal aisle, and bawled.
How am I?
I’m fine, I’m really not fine, I’m angry, I’m OK, I’m numb, I’m hurting, I’m searching, I’m alright, I’m hopeful, I’m talkative, I’m quiet, I’m tired, I’m fine.