First off, I just wanted to say thank you. Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to read my blog and not necessarily because of me, but in spite of me. It makes me happy. As I’ve continued to prod and explore deep inside my bones and all above, below and around me, I’ve realized that I’ve shared a lot of very personal things. And frankly, I don’t intend to stop. I want to become great dueling partners with you; just not at hide and seek. And so to that end, I thought I’d share some more about my father; it’s Father’s Day here in America next week and I can’t escape it.
If you don’t know me from a bar of soap, my father passed away in 2008 from Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. It’s really only now – eight years later – that I can write words on this experience. Before? Forget about it. Grief is an elusive beast. At some point after his death, although I can’t remember when because my memory of that period is hazy, someone gave me a copy of C.S Lewis’s A Grief Observed. Most people, myself included, know Lewis for that most magical of series, The Chronicles of Narnia, but his primary work was teaching English at Oxford. In his teachings, he found a great amount of comfort in the conversations between keen minds (he was close friends with J.R.R. Tolkien). Not only did he gravitate toward brilliance in conversation, but also in correspondence. That’s how he met his wife Joy. Joy was a recent convert from Judaism and they began writing to each other (ah, sweet love letters). These letters turned into face-to-face meetings after she was divorced and moved to England. Eventually the two married but she died three years later. The book is a collection of his journal entries that were compiled as he struggled through the mourning process. I was shocked to find a writer who so evocatively described my pain even as he wrote about his, and whoever gifted me the book, I’m forever grateful. Here’s a gem that resonated early on:
“We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, ‘Blessed are they that mourn,’ and I accept it. I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not imagination.”
You can’t map grief because it’s not static, it’s a moving target that doesn’t ever fully end. I think the first year my father was gone I was on autopilot. I was also in relationship with someone who had people around him constantly serving as a good distraction from the seemingly purely physical pain I was feeling. My heart ached in such a way that an overstrained muscle does. Except it never dissipated. Not for a long, long time. My pain threshold must have gone up immeasurably. That’s why I’m convinced I managed to climb Kilimanjaro and put myself through all manner of physical feats. I thought: if it hurts this much, might as well go with it. Also, physical distractions were key to me in those early years. If I had felt the full weight of his loss, I think I would have died of a broken heart. Truly.
“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.”
I’m not nearly as restless now as I was during the initial years after my dad died, but I recognize when I’m heading for another major grieving cycle because I become fidgety and angsty. And just about when I become a whirling dervish – Bam! – grief stops me in my tracks. Ha! All those efforts at ‘control’, they are nothing more than me trying to outrun my grief. You’d think by now I’d just give up the fight, turn around, shake hands with it and say “ok, what is it this time, let’s have it out”. But no, I fight feeling that pain sometimes just as hard as I ever have.
There is no recipe for dealing with grief, but my hope in starting to open up the doors and write about it is that I can be of some help to ‘restless’ souls like myself, and maybe even bid my own ghosts farewell. “The death of a beloved is an amputation,” Lewis wrote, but more than that, “The same leg is cut off time after time.” Is it my hope that the shared revelation of pain may assuage – or perhaps stave off? – private sufferings? Maybe. But each death is unique, each loss particular. I think what I’ve learned is that life is to be embraced in all its messiness. And actually, the messier the better, because even in our darkest times, we aren’t other than our flawed and jumbled selves. And that’s pretty damn grand.