Sunday, April 17, 2011

Good Grief

My father died on a Tuesday. It was a glorious, sunny day in September, probably too hot for most of you but I'm cold-blooded and had things been different, I'd have been outdoors soaking up all that lovely sunshine. Instead, I was inside a hospice room standing next to my father's bed while he drew his last labored breath. It was one of the most surreal moments of my entire life. It was painful, but also oddly peaceful. I can't account for the calm that I felt as I called my brother and sister on the phone to give them the news. I can't explain the evenness of my temper in the hours that followed. I think it was a gift from God.

But it was fleeting. The next several weeks were excruciating. I hadn't experienced that kind of grief before, and it was unnerving. One moment I was watching a Dodgers game on TV, the next moment I was curled in the fetal position on the couch, sobbing to the point of hyperventilation. I'd go from laughter to tears to laughter again, then to a sort of numb emotionlessness. This cycle repeated several times a day. I pretty much stopped eating, and I lost 15 lbs in 18 days (which I don't recommend).

In the throes of this crushing grief, I made a few poor choices. One of them was to attempt to repair my relationship with H, which is how I ended up with a positive pregnancy test six weeks after my dad died.

It felt like too much to handle. As if it weren't enough to be jobless and single and to have just lost my father. Now I had a pregnancy to deal with as well. I thought more than once that if God only gives us what He knows we can handle, He must have me confused with someone else.

But there was a blessing to my pregnancy as well. It was a new sort of grief, something else to think about when I woke up in the morning, and it proved to be a most welcome distraction. I had a reason to eat again. I had to eat! I knew how crucial the first few weeks and months are for the developing baby. I ate again, and I ate well.

Food wasn't the only thing to think about, of course. There were a lot of things to work through with my pregnancy. My grief for my father was still mixed in there, but it wasn't as high on my priority list. I had these moments where I missed my father something awful, but always things seemed to come back to my pregnancy and the baby and what I was going to do. Then I had Roo, and that was its own adjustment, and then I placed Roo. I placed her on the anniversary of my father's death. My grief was mixed once more. After placement, my grief was much more selfish. I missed my dad, but I was so wrapped up in the pain of placement that it didn't signify. I pushed it down to deal with it at a later time

I find that, now that I'm in such a good place with adoption, the grief over my father that I've suppressed for so long is pushing its way back to the surface. I feel a little ridiculous at times - he's been gone for nearly three years. how is it that I still have these moments of such exquisite grief? It's not as though he's any more dead now than he was then. Still I find myself every now and then crying to the point of dehydration because I miss my daddy so very much.

Of course, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. Grief never goes away. The final stage of grief is acceptance, not elimination. I mean, just the other day I got distracted by some newborn Roo photos and I had a twenty-second gasping, sobbing fit and nearly hyperventilated.

Then I was fine. But I've spent a lot of time working on getting to fine with things with Roo. I don't suppose I've put as much work in on mourning my father. I'm taking a writing class this semester, and I find that I mention my father in every single journal entry. I'll think of something he used to say to me, or something we used to do together, or wonder what he would have thought of this or that. I'm surprised at how much pain I've still got stuffed down there. I find myself putting off the homework for my writing class because I know it's going to end with me sobbing on the sofa. The sofa itself probably doesn't help. It's the one from my mom's house, the sofa my dad was sitting on when he lost consciousness. He'd had a stroke, but we didn't know it yet. We thought when he sat down he was just going to take a nap, but when my mom went to wake him to ask about his pain, he wouldn't wake.

Sometimes I hate my sofa.

I sort of hate that I've come so far with my grief over placing Roo only to slip back a few notches on the grief scale with my dad. It seems unfair that I should have to go through some of these emotions again. I think that part of me thought that my pregnancy sort of took the place of my grief, and that I wouldn't have to process it. Clearly, I was mistaken. It really stinks.

I hate that he died. I hate that he's not here now, that I can't show him pictures of Roo or get his opinion on politics or music or school or anything else. He's been gone for 2 1/2 years now but I still find new things that I've never done on my own before. Taxes, for instance. My current job is the first I've had since before he died, and I've never had to do my taxes on my own. I use the easy form, but I do not have a head for that kind of paperwork, and in any case I always felt better when my dad looked things over before I mailed them off.

My car needed new brake pads. I had to pay for it. I've never done that before. My dad took care of our cars. We'd go to a tire place for flat repair and rotation, but he did everything else. Now I always feel like I'm being ripped off when I take my car to a shop, because I have only a vague idea of how much parts cost. I wish I'd paid more attention when my dad showed me how to do routine maintenance. It kills me that I can't change my own oil. I know he showed me once. Why didn't I pay more attention?

I suppose I thought he'd always be there, that I could ask him to show me again some day. I think I thought that about a lot of things. It's why I don't remember the stories he told very well. I thought I'd hear them again. I didn't ask for his opinion on a college major because I thought I could ask later. I didn't know there wouldn't be a later. Who would have thought he'd die so young? And of a brain tumor, no less. Who the heck gets a brain tumor?

My father did. He was very zen about it, too, which sort of irritated me. "Why not me?" he asked. "I'm not so special that I can't get cancer." But to me, he was. He was special. He was my daddy.

He still is. And I miss him.


Katie said...

This post is so real! My mom died last year and I feel so many similar things to you but naturally you express it better. Most times I really don't know how I function but it is so nice to be able to relate to someone :)

Rachel said...

What a beautiful post!

My mother did almost eight years ago (I can't believe it's been so long), and I still think about her every day. I write her a letter every year on Mothers' Day and tell her about the past year. The letters make quite a chronicle of my life, and I look forward to writing them. I also celebrate her birthday every year in some way. Her name was Sally, so my family likes to get together for a "Sallybration" on her special day.

I'm so glad you're taking the writing class. You are an awesome writer. Writing has helped me to process the grief over the loss of my mother. Somehow I felt that if I wrote my memories down, I could never lose them. In the months following my mom's death, I wrote more than I cried.

I have felt that surreal feeling of peace and calm, and I know what you mean about it being a "gift from God." I found a scripture recently that I think captures it: Philipians 4:7--"peace that passeth all understanding"--it's peace that doesn't really make rational sense, but it's because God is "keeping" (or guarding) our hearts.

You are awesome, Jill. I love your introspection and reflection. You are real. Of course you are grieving for your father, and you will be in my prayers.

A. B. said...

My dad died in September too. On a Monday afternoon. From Cancer. Almost 2 years ago. I miscarried right after that and I still cry for them both. You express things so beautifully and I am glad I found your blog. It gives me hope.

AubreyMo said...

Beautiful post. I'm sure he's proud of you and missing you too. When I was having a hard time about losing grams, one of my cousins commented and mentioned a quote another relative had said, "The only way to take the pain away from the death of a loved one, is to take the love out of life".

Thinking of you. If you need a listening ear just message me anytime.

Mother of the Wild Boys said...

Your words struck my soul today. I especially appreciated : "The final stage of grief is acceptance, not elimination." I'm so grateful to you for sharing so honestly. I'll be thinking of you. <3