Dad died on a Monday in my parent’s home. Due to the nature of his disease, death did not come peacefully. I am still awed by the strength of my mother who sat with and nursed my dad, her husband, and helplessly tried to make his last moments before final surrender as comfortable as she could. She is heroic to me in so many ways. The rest of the week following his death was an odd juxtaposition of sadness and grief; and random happy, even silly, moments. I liken funeral preparations to planning a wedding…in 3 days…with absolutely no joy, except for those odd little instants of memory over something funny or insightful dad would have said or did relating to the moment at hand. The decisions my mom was assaulted with boggled the mind. Dad had been on a steady decline for a while and many decisions had already been made, but there were so many little details left. I felt like my role was to be there for my mother in whatever capacity she needed me, to keep her on track and assist with the countless things that needed to get done. It actually felt good to be busy, to have a purpose….and then cruel reality would smack me in the face reminding me why I was busy, and this uncontrollable anguish would overcome me. I would completely disconnect into a world of hazy memories, recollections and sorrow for a minute…or two…or ten, then pull myself together and keep moving.
Because my dad died at home, I was able to spend time with him before the funeral home took him to wash all traces of pain and death away. It’s such a peculiar way to describe this, because he was gone. It’s tantamount to spending time with the life sized shell of a person I once knew…and I was hesitant, but I will never regret it. The moments I had alone in that room with him were some of the most precious moments I’ll remember. Silence….just me and him. I could hold his hand, touch his face…he couldn’t hold me at arm’s length anymore. I was free to love him as me. No walls…no guards up. It was beautiful and heartbreaking all at once. The emotions just over flowed out of me. I couldn’t help it. I could tell him things I’d always wanted to tell him. I could say I was sorry for the anger I had towards him, and that I was sorry for not trying harder to get to know him, and that I was happy he finally had the peace he so desperately longed for in the final days of his life…and I could say goodbye. There is a huge difference between saying goodbye in a small room, when death has just consumed a loved one, and saying goodbye at a visitation. It is small and intensely intimate and real. I will always covet and treasure that time.
I didn’t like funerals…and I realize as I type this…it’s a bit ridiculous. I mean, who does? I never really ascribed to public displays of sorrow. It makes me uncomfortable. I have always preferred to grieve privately, tucked away in a room somewhere so no one can watch me weep. I realized when dad was diagnosed and the inevitability of his life ending became more of a reality that I couldn’t hide away. I also came face to face with the brutal truth that the underlying reason I didn’t like to grieve publicly was that in that moment of overwhelming grief, I was also incredibly vulnerable.
I hate being vulnerable. My dad taught me well. Like him, my life experiences have been harsh and cruel. Watching him deal with the lot that life had thrown at him, I mimicked his isolation and detach technique quite meticulously. And so, to be stripped raw and emotionally naked before people I knew and didn’t know was terrifying. But in hindsight, I gained something immeasurably valuable at dad’s visitation and funeral. With each friend and family member that I greeted and exposed my broken self to, it became apparent to me that an underlying reason I was so emotional was because they cared. These wonderful people came from everywhere to acknowledge my father. Friends and family I had not seen for years…they came for me. For us. They loved and grieved my dad, and subsequently wanted to love and grieve with us. It was overwhelming and incredibly humbling to be a part of. I am so grateful to these people for loving me and giving me the freedom to be vulnerable at one of the lowest points in my life.
Being able to express my sorrow and vulnerability was incredibly freeing and I am saddened that dad never got to experience that with us. He could have. We were ready to love and accept him and all his flaws if he could have let down the wall and allowed himself to be vulnerable with us…to be authentic with us. Those two days changed me. I grew up a little more. I am more comfortable allowing my true sensitive nature out and I have taken a step in letting down my own guard. My remaining family has grown closer. I need to touch base with them now. I need them to know they are loved and missed when they aren’t around. I am not afraid to love them anymore.
My grief and healing guides me to places internally and emotionally that I don’t necessarily anticipate, but I am committed to riding this wave. I will not shy away from whatever emotions, memories or situations that present themselves to me….and I am growing.