Friday, June 12, 2015

They're still here, even if they're not

My apologies in advance. It's that time of year, the time when I just think about them a little bit more often. Me, being how I am, I can't only think inside my head. I have to do this, I have to write, I have to process it this way to get it out.

So, here we are.

It's funny how people insist that grief should have a definite ending point, like once a predetermined amount of time has past, it should automatically just be over. Our society is a bizarre one, to say the least, when it comes to how we handle death.

In some ways, it chafed at the idea that I mourned proactively, in the days and weeks and months before my parents died. I shouldn't do that, some people said, because it was inappropriate. It was stealing joy from the moments that were left with them here in this world or something like that.

Except that it wasn't really, and people who say that must not understand what it is really like when you know with certainty that someone you love is dying.

Though there are absolutely times when you are actively creating memories and enjoying what is left, there's a lot of down time when someone is sick. Death, so I've heard, takes a lot of energy. The people who aren't actually dying are left twiddling their thumbs a lot. There is a lot of sitting around and pondering, a whole lot of time spent in your own head with your thoughts. It would be impossible, I think, to avoid ever thinking about what life will be like once the person who is dying is gone. The grief process inevitably starts before they actually die, and it seems that the longer that takes, the more of it is processed before they go.

There are no rules about when it starts or stops. Grief doesn't have an expiration date.

By the time both of my parents actually died, the heavy weight of grief had mostly been processed. There was at least as much relief as sadness, if not more.

I don't expect anyone who hasn't been through it to understand, though. It's just something you have to experience I suppose.

The circumstances of their deaths were so very different.

He died with us all around him, in his home, with us holding his hands. He'd said goodbye, left this world on good terms. It was peaceful and quiet.

I don't actually know the circumstances of her death. The truth is that I don't actually know many details about how the end came for her, or even what happened at all in that last year. It wasn't for lack of trying on my part, but I was just too far away. She left and shut me out. There was a grief process in that all long before anything formal was said or done involving the act of dying itself.

I don't know much.

It's a lot to digest, the not knowing. Even more than the death itself. I've been judged up and down for it, more by myself than by anyone else, trust me.

I know that time doesn't make any of it better, it just stretches out the distance between then and now. I know that unresolved issues never go away, we just come to a point where we have to accept the fact that they'll never be resolved.

Time changes things, even if it doesn't make any of it better. It changes our relationship with those who are gone as we begin to see and feel their presence around us in different ways.

We aren't just seeing reminders of who they were, in some ways it's like they are still around.

I know that when my daughter gets wrapped up in crafting projects and the entire house looks like it has been glitter bombed that she comes by it honestly, and that somewhere her grandmother is laughing. I know that wherever she is right now, my Mom has tears in her eyes when she hears her other granddaughter playing Hey Jude on her son's clarinet. I know that she's bursting with pride at the oldest's love of music. I know that she'd be eager to take the girls out shopping for makeup and clothes now that they are getting older. I know that there are times that my daughter looks just like her. I know that she'd be madly in love with the little boy crawling all over my house right now. I know that every time I fry tortilla shells for tacos she's standing over my shoulder making sure that I do it right.

I know that there is a very specific face the baby makes where he looks almost exactly like my father, that there is a little sparkle in his eyes when he figures something out that reminds me of a look my Dad used to give me when he was teasing me. I know that every time I watch my oldest child sign his name left handed, it reminds me of the contorted way my father used to do it himself. I know that when I catch a glimpse of my daughter across the room and am reminded of just how much she looks like his side of the family, he's still here in some ways.

I smile and laugh to myself every single time I cut strawberries, remembering the story he told me in strictest confidence just days before he died. He'd pretended to be allergic to them for decades because he hated them. He knew that if he told people he was allergic, no one would ever try to trick him into eating them. He took that secret almost all the way to his grave, asked me to keep it until he was gone. And I did. And I laugh even now, every time I see a strawberry.

I laughed for a good long time yesterday.

And somewhere, he was laughing with me.

2 comments:

  1. I envy you. I envy that you knew what was coming and were able to process it beforehand. My Dad died on November 7, 2014. He had been ill and in hospital all but 3 1/2 weeks since June 27, 2014. But we never thought for one moment that he wouldn't get better and come home. His body started shutting down and we switched from active care to palliative care 3 days before he died. I was 8 months pregnant with my twins. They were born 17 hours after my Dad died. They was no time to process my Dad's death... To add to our heartbreak, my mother-in-law died suddenly on November 26, 2014. It's been 7 months and there has been no time to grieve and mourn our losses. You were so lucky to have had the opportunity to mourn in advance.

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  2. "I mourned proactively, in the days and weeks and months before my parents died. I shouldn't do that, some people said, because it was inappropriate. It was stealing joy from the moments that were left with them here in this world or something like that. Except that it wasn't really, and people who say that must not understand what it is really like when you know with certainty that someone you love is dying." VERY TRUE.

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