Doing It Wrong

Yesterday was my dad’s birthday. He would’ve been 72. But he’s not, because he died nine months ago, yesterday. So on one day, we got a double-whammy: his birthday and the nine-month anniversary since he left the planet. It has just been over the past week or two that I have felt like I’m even grieving. I told my therapist that I must be doing it wrong.

She is kind. She is also a grief specialist. She says, no, no, I’m not doing it wrong, no such thing. But I just read a grief memoir by Meghan O’Rourke, called The Long Goodbye. In it, she talks about her research of grief, and the difference between “normal” grief and “complicated” grief. She says “normal” grief peaks in the first six months. Well, in the first six months after my dad died, I was raising an infant and going to graduate school and trying (and often failing) to resolve my dad’s affairs: debt collectors and lawyers and phone companies and furniture auction houses. I also organized his funeral. I couldn’t have done any of it without tons of help, but during most of it, I felt very alone, because, well, I’m it. No siblings. No parents, anymore. Just me.

Still, the grief has come in sharp, short stabs. One night I’ll sob for an hour, and then I won’t cry or even really think about it that much for a couple of weeks. Maybe what I am experiencing isn’t “normal” grief. Maybe it’s “complicated” grief. That would make sense. My relationship with my dad was a lot more complicated than that with my mom. And my life is a lot more complicated now than it was when she died. I don’t know. Then last Wednesday, Brian said something about how good it was that we kept all of these old pictures of my dad, because I can show them to Jack and tell him about his grandfather.

I wept. I sobbed. I exploded. “I HATE that I have pictures. I HATE that I’ll have to tell him stories. I HATE that that’s the only way Jack will ever know anything about either of my parents.” I cried for a long time. And for the first time in a long time, I let Brian hold me. It was, frankly, one of the sweetest experiences of my life.

And speaking of sweet experiences, I now have a toddler who’s starting to talk: juice, ‘nana, outside (which he says as “tide”). Last night, after dinner, Jack and I were in his sandbox, playing. At exactly 6 pm, when friends in Virginia were releasing birthday balloons and bottle rockets in my dad’s honor, Jack looked up at the sky and reached out his hand.

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One response

  1. Chris — I had one of my former best friends/boyfriends die in August 2 weeks before Marian was born. I know nothing about a parent dying, but I will say this: modern life has us living away from our closest friends and family. They’re not down the road or a 10 minute drive away, so we get used to phone calls and emails and maybe even skype. More importantly we get used to them being “out there” such that the sadness that comes with them being “not here” is dulled down to near un-noticeability. So when death happens, that “out there” reflex, I think, dulls our sense of grief for longer than we may even want it to, because we’re used to not seeing them or hearing from them — too used to it. It makes sense to me that you would get stabs and spikes but not sustained grief because those are the times when your “out there” reflex gets overridden. I wonder if any of us can have normal grief when we don’t have true proximity to remind us, again and again, of the truth of death?
    I’m sad that he’s not “out there” in the physical sense but I hope for you that as you realize and live through your grief that a spiritual “out there” reflex will come in place and ease the healing process. I say this having not experienced it for myself with the loss of my friend. I still get spikes and stabs and throw the occasional fit too, and I still hate that it’s occasional.
    Lots of love…

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