A Grieving Heart
If someone would have asked me prior to my dad's passing what the hardest thing I've ever done is, I'd easily say either parenting or perhaps marriage - depending on how the week plays out. But losing my dad is by far the most excruciating and confusing experience I've ever walked through. It doesn't feel real. How could this be? My head and my heart are not aligned. While I know in my head that he's gone, my heart plays tricks on me; giving me false hope that surely his name will illuminate my phone with a text or a call.
But perhaps the logical side of me knows how utterly impossible that is. So, instead I live in fear of time moving forward from this very moment. The thing that has surprised me the most about grief is this feeling that I desperately want time to stop. I don't want the intensity of what I'm feeling to fade; I fear that when the intensity of my grief lessens, so will my memory of him. When the meals stop coming, when people stop offering their condolences and when thoughts of him occupy less space in my mind - how can that possibly be any better than what I'm feeling in this moment?
Harder still, is the reality that my kids still need to be taken care of. Their needs do not lessen as a result of my grieving. In fact, my prayer most mornings is that the Lord would help me to not resent my children and their inability to comprehend loss of this magnitude - and yet... thank the Lord they do not fully understand this sort of pain. There are moments when taking care of my children is the soothing balm that distracts my thoughts away from the ache in my chest....and then seconds later my relief turns to guilt for finding comfort in not thinking about the gaping hole in my heart.
Another difficult aspect is that his passing feels so unexpected. He underwent surgery a month prior to his death, and we were so focused on getting through the surgery itself that we never imagined it would be the recovery that would ultimately take his life. While recovery hadn't been easy by any stretch of the imagination, it did seem like he was through the worst of it. Some days the Lord gives me the willpower to choose not to dwell on all of the "what ifs" that embitter my soul, and other days my flesh craves the bitterness that looks like self-pity.
There's no doubt about how much my dad loved me and our family. He was not afraid to express his love, be it in word, touch, or even rebuke. He had a very difficult childhood. Yet, he didn't allow his circumstances to define his life. He chose to believe in God's plan for his life. Not only did he believe, he literally shouted his faith from the mountaintops on airwaves across the country. Most moments it feels impossible to reconcile the dichotomy of grief and hope. Yet, there is much solace in choosing to believe.
“For in grief nothing 'stays put.' One keeps on emerging from a phase, but it always recurs. Round and round. Everything repeats. Am I going in circles, or dare I hope I am on a spiral? But if a spiral, am I going up or down it?How often -- will it be for always? -- how often will the vast emptiness astonish me like a complete novelty and make me say, 'I never realized my loss till this moment'? The same leg is cut off time after time.” - C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
My two older boys had their first soccer game of the spring season this morning. I went. Being there was overwhelming; watching people - laugh, cheer and live life without the slightest clue of the suffering that was going on in my heart. I felt angry. How can life outside feel so normal? Don't they know? Certainly there's been a mistake and he should be here watching his grandchildren play their first game. How many more moments will there be like this? How many more firsts will come where his absence fills my heart with an overwhelming sense of grief.
This week has been the hardest. Maybe because it's felt almost "normal" between parenting, homeschooling and the myriad of activities those two hats include, I'm feeling like there simply isn't ample time or space to grieve. It's such a confusing feeling. Vacillating between complete despair to incomprehensible hope. I have to believe heaven is real; because if not, then what? Hopelessness. There are small moments of peace that fill my heart in knowing he loved the Lord. But even so, today I just miss my dad.
I miss his laugh, his encouragement, his conviction. Most of all, I just miss his presence. I miss how much he treasured my children. I miss his loud clap that accompanied his boisterous laugh. I miss the way his beard prickled my head when he kissed the top of it. I miss his sense of humor and his love of sports. I miss his daily plodding and choosing faith over fear - even though he wasn't perfect and his life wasn't always easy. Being left behind is hard. The unknown is hard. Death is hard.
Experiencing this sort of loss makes me wonder how it's possible to go about our daily lives without ever giving something as imminent as death a second thought. No experience has given me as much pause to consider questions like: What do I believe about life and death? Do I really believe the truths I've studied in my Bible? How can I go on knowing more loss is an inevitable part of life on this side of heaven? How do I grieve while taking care of my family? I don't know the answers to all of the questions that flood my mind.
But I do know that this is a defining moment in my life. A season by which all other seasons will be labeled as either "before" or "after" and a season in which each day brings a fair amount of unpredictability. Somedays I wake up with an unshakable dark cloud looming over my soul. Other days I wake up feeling good enough to do some laundry and get some school done. One day at a time. Because I can't stop time from passing no matter how much I try. I don't where I'll be in 6 months or a year. But I do know that I'll never stop missing him.
It's been two weeks. Two long and confusing weeks. How is it possible to feel like I've aged a decade in the span of a couple of weeks. Death has violently ripped away any shred of control I mistakenly believed was mine to begin with.
Today is my daughter's 4th birthday. The first of many "firsts" without my dad. I honestly didn't expect it to be so hard. We went for a walk on the levee near our house and while the kids searched for cattails and trampled through the creek, I sat down and wept. I couldn't stop. My heart physically ached inside my chest; the burden of my loss was palpable. I closed my eyes and my mind was flooded with memories. I can still so clearly hear his voice and see his eyes light up every time the pitter-patter of grandkids' feet burst through his front door.
While sitting and sobbing I noticed blossoms on the trees. Spring is coming. The promise of the new life that comes as the seasons change. A sign that also reminds me that time goes on. As I was crying, my oldest son came up to me and gently rested his arm on my shoulder. After a few seconds of silence, he resolutely stated, "It's okay mom. I know you're sad. But you don't have to be. You will see Opa again." I held his hand and proceeded to cry harder than before. The human heart is a giant conundrum of feelings. In that moment, my mind flashed to the children's novel Becuase of Winn Dixie when sweet, ten-year-old Opal laments over her mother's absence when she states, “...life was like a Littmus Lozenge, how the sweet and the sad were all mixed up together and how hard it was to separate them out. It was confusing.”
Today would've been my dad's 66th birthday. I fully expected today to be really difficult. But, honestly, it's been better than I expected. I went out to breakfast with my mom, and she mentioned how she's trying to find tiny things to be grateful for each day. So, today I'm simply going to share why I'm grateful. I'm grateful my dad knew each one of his grandkids. I'm grateful for the time we had - however short, especially the past few years. I'm grateful my brother recently moved back to town. I'm grateful for memories made - whether it's Disneyland or Apple Hill. I'm grateful for the hope of seeing him again someday.
As the dust settles from the memorial service, I don't know where to go from here. Most days are okay but some days are incredibly difficult as I fight against drowning in the waves of grief. I'm exceptionally proud of the legacy that my dad left of overcoming, choosing faith, and loving deeply - even amidst life's difficulties. I only hope I can do the same.
Until then, I long for the day I get to be with you again, dad.
"And what a barren and dry land should we dwell in if our spirits were narrowed to the limits of that which we can comprehend! Where we err is in supposing that mystery is confined to our religion, that everything else is obvious and open to our understanding. whereas the great things of life, birth, death, hope, love, patriotism, why a leaf is green, and why a bird is clothed in feathers––all such things as these are mysteries; and it is only as we can receive that which we cannot understand, and can discern the truth of that which we cannot prove, and can distinguish between a luminous mystery and a bewildering superstition, that we are able to live the full life for which we were made." - Charlotte Mason, Ourselves, p. 201.