Observations on grief
Some thoughts about my father’s death, in no particular order:
- The past three weeks have felt like years.
- Suicide is awful. That first late night especially, when we had no idea where he’d gone and all we had were the notes he left behind, the rain out in the darkness puncturing our hope, the spreading stain of fear in our hearts. I got maybe two hours of sleep that night.
- Depression: also awful. My dad struggled with it almost all his life. I ache as I think of all the pain he suffered along the way. In the end, the cumulative weight was too much for him to bear, and it crushed him. I wish we’d been able to figure out a way to help him so we could have avoided this.
- My belief that Dad is alive on the other side of the veil has been comforting. This is a long separation — till the end of my life, (which hopefully isn’t anytime soon) — but it’s not forever. Perspective helps.
- I’ve often felt like I’m wading through muddy waters. Occasionally the path clears up for a bit, but then it gets murky again.
- Another way of looking at the same thing: At the beginning I felt numb and listless and lost most of the time. Thankfully that’s largely gone away, but every once in a while it comes back for a little while.
- During the first couple weeks, I tried to read but could barely get through even a couple pages a day (compared to my usual average of around a hundred pages a day). Since then I’ve gradually been able to get my fiction reading back up to semi-normal levels, but I’m still struggling with nonfiction. It slides off my brain. I imagine this will change in the near future.
- Whenever I look at my front porch I’m reminded of my dad. During our Covid isolation, he would frequently drop cookies off on the porch and then stand back to chat with me from a distance. It happened often enough that we got sick of the cookies, but as an excuse to visit (not that we needed one) it worked well. I’m glad he stopped by as many times as he did.
- A few days ago I noticed that when I step out my back door and look north, I can see the canyon where we found my dad’s body. It’s right there, staring back at me. (In fact, with the foliage around my yard right now, it’s basically the only part of the mountain that’s visible.) Turns out that part of the mountain is also garishly visible whenever I’m driving north in our part of town, a constant reminder now of those awful days of searching, hoping he was somehow still alive but feeling increasingly certain that at the end of our search we would find a lifeless, discarded body. Forever will that canyon — and by extension the entire mountain — be haunted in my mind, a cradle of sorrow. Perhaps time will heal it. I’ve found myself wondering how much worse it must be for those whose loved ones kill themselves in the same house.
- It’s comforting to me to remember that losing a parent is something that billions upon billions of my fellow humans (including most of the older generation alive right now) have gone through. There is life after death, in several different ways.
- Most of the time I abstract my dad’s suicide away so that I can function. Being able to set the thought aside if it’s not a good time to cry has been very helpful. I went days without crying, then listened to his last few voicemails and sobbed on the floor for a long while (alarming my kids who hadn’t really ever seen me cry before and who thought I was faking it). Audio and video recordings are the hardest — stark reminders that this man who once was a breathing, moving, talking person is now a few pounds of ash buried in the ground (the part of him that’s still here on earth is, anyway), and that he’ll never say anything new to me or to anyone else.
- Beauty for ashes has new meaning to me now.
- In the wake of death, there’s been so much connection to other people, and that is a wonderful thing, even if people feel like they don’t know what to say. (And even if they say the wrong thing, which doesn’t really bother me.) I know not everyone has a large network of support, though, and that breaks my heart.
- I feel a mild amount of guilt for wanting my life to go back to normal (or at least as normal as possible given what’s happened).
- Seeing father/child relationships (including my own with my children) keeps reminding me that I no longer have a dad on this planet. Off he went, through a one-way portal to another world, leaving a gaping abyss in his absence. I skirt my way around that abyss most of the time, but every once in a while I can feel it looming nearby, a flash of cosmic horror. (That said, my faith really is a foundation that makes all of this bearable.)
- As I talk with others about the past few weeks, by the way, and also as I write this post, I wonder whether I’m overdramatizing any of this. Maybe. But I have to remind myself that this really is something truly horrible, something undeniably in the category of Really Bad Things that can happen.
- I’ve frequently had mildly traumatizing dreams that I’m back at the canyon trailhead still searching for my dad’s body. I wonder how long my brain will take to finish processing that.
- Designing the headstone and typesetting the funeral program was kind of fun, in a sad way.
- Now that I’m dealing with the administrative issues that come with being executor, I’ve found myself wishing my dad had left an overview document for me: a list of all his accounts, insurance policies, bills, passwords, etc. Instead I’ve had to piece it all together from emails and texts and snail mail and his wallet, and even then I still don’t know if I’m missing something crucial.
- After years of doing genealogy, I find it intriguing to be on this side of probate, with a father who died intestate like so many of my ancestors. I’m learning a lot.
- As far as I can tell, the last time I spoke with my dad was almost a month before he passed. There were nominal reasons why we didn’t talk after that — Covid, other sicknesses, a work trip to Chicago, life — but they all seem hollow now. I wish we’d had some kind of contact in the week before he left us, a goodbye even if I didn’t know it was one at the time.
- In spite of all the sorrow, I know that this too shall pass. In the end, death will have lost its sting and the grave its victory. I’m learning now for the first time, though, just how far off that end feels.
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