Last week, a beloved friend of mine posted a beautiful letter to her mother on the second anniversary of her death. I tried to think exactly how long it had been since my dad passed, and I couldn’t do it.
Was it 2012? Or 2013? What month is it now anyway? Is it seven or eight years gone now?
What a change from years past when, like her, I knew almost down to the minute how long it had been since he died. Then the other day this picture popped up in my “memories”.
His smile, that shirt, his hands, all reminding me of the time before. I have done a lot of writing about his death. The creation of this blog was largely inspired by it. A way for me to write down all the things he was missing, each post an unofficial letter to him about what is going on in my life. Me, reaching out for a hand that wasn’t there anymore. Very often, ten hands reach back to me. Ones I can still hold, and that has been a great comfort and tool throughout this process.
I know one thing for sure, the death of a loved one splits your life into before and after, like BC and AD. Even though it takes math to objectively figure out how long it has been since he died, I know visuraly the milestones he was absent from without much thought at all.
He wasn’t there for my pregnancy or PJ’s birth. He won’t ever meet his granddaughter. He will never see the amazing men the boys are becoming. All the future joy, pain and milestones, I will be sans my dad. These things will always hurt. They are keen, hungry blades and I must be careful how I handle them.
Those are the rabbit holes it’s best not to go down. The creatures down there are not bunnies, they have matted, bloody fur and sharp, eager teeth. They will eat me whole if I let them. It’s good to see those holes from the surface; to mark their location and acknowledge their existence, but ill advised to enter them. There is no healing down there, only the rending of souls. The edges of such abysses are unstable, and can cave in at any second. I still slip into them from time to time.
It is a delicate balance to remember and honor those who are gone.
The reality of death is a polarizing thing, if I’m honest, there are many things I’m glad he is not here for. There is a cultural tendency to grant sainthood to the deceased, to not “speak ill of the dead,” but I find this tendency disingenuous and lacking the wholeness of truth. He would not have done well in this pandemic, a natural germaphobe and intensely social creature; this new world would have been incredibly difficult for him.
Like the holes of the “wasn’t”, “won’t” and “never” monsters; these acknowledgments are best left identified, but unexplored. It is a tempting comfort to paint someone only in the colors of their faults to ease your own pain. To block out their light with bad memories of their worst qualities.
I have also found that judgment and death walk hand in hand. Measuring how you are doing against cultural timelines, being comforted or incensed by the actions of others and how they express their own grief. This aspect of death is a web, ready to catch you up in it. It can be a welcome distraction from the grief, a tempting diversion of focus away from your own pain. Almost a blanket. Those left behind by death are often seen as gatekeepers to the memory of the departed. One of the hardest parts of losing someone close to you, is that you will be a touchstone for the grief of others.
It can be a healing burden.
One of his good friends commented on the memory I posted, that it’s “not right” he’s gone, and while I completely understand and empathize with the sentiment, my instant response was “There is no right and wrong in death. Only ‘is’ and ‘isn’t”. This was not something I had considered before, a thought (like all the good ones) that didn’t come from me, but rather passed through me. If not for that prompting I would not have stumbled on that honest truth. Many deaths can be justly labeled tragic. In the end, it is a heavy thing to evaluate the amount of tragedy in a loss. A weight that pulls you down the monster holes.
Like life, grief encompases a wide array of experiences. All of them valid, all a part of getting through it. When I have these episodes it always comes back around to gratitude. I am grateful for his love and finding little memories stashed in the cluttered corners of my life. Like this business card that appeared in the junk drawer (likely a toddler assisted situation).
This isn’t a monster hole, an overlay, or a web to get stuck in. It simply is what I make it. A beautiful reminder of a time when I had a dad near to hand. He is gone, but I have many marvelous memories. Ones clothed in flannel shirts and mischievous intentions. I also have a deep appreciation for the artifacts he created. The featured picture for this post is a pen and ink he did titled, “Release”. That is good advice in the matter of grief and a bit of a dirty joke if you look closely. One more dad joke for the road ahead.
According to the math; it has been 7 years, 2 months, 24 days since he died. Life has gone on. I make sure to keep him close, while still honoring my own healing. A daily push and pull of acknowledgment, and letting go. Grief is also a dance. His last FB post the day before his death says it all.
Thanks dad, that’s good advice.