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 realised that I’ve shared a lot of very personal things. And frankly, I don’t intend to stop. 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 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. 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). 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. 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.”
I think the first year my father was gone I was on autopilot. I was also in a relationship with someone who had people around him continually 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 vital 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 recognise when I’m heading for another significant grieving cycle because I become fidgety and angsty. And about when I become a whirling dervish, BAM, grief stops me in my tracks.
There is no recipe for dealing with pain, 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.” 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.