In February, my mother had slipped quietly away in the wee hours of darkness to the land where there is no night. It had been a long goodbye, nearly two years since her initial diagnosis of liver cancer. Still, there was really no way to prepare for the hard reality of her gone-ness. Gone somewhere amazing, true, but still, gone. It was all so final and unbelievable. And one of the hardest pieces of that day was knowing I would have to tell my dad.
Some days I still can't believe I don't have either of them. I want the ringing phone to be Mom, checking up on me, knowing that in the background, Dad is asking, "Is that Belleville?" I want to pick up the phone and call her so I can whine awhile. Or tell her the latest grandson milestone. I'd like to show Dad the pictures I'm finding, and tell him about the great-grandson that might have inherited the fishing gene. But I can't. The world, my little nuclear family world, shifted on its axis last year, and I'm still learning the lessons grief wants to teach me, a list I started earlier, which you can catch up on here and here. I think we're ready (sort of) for number four.
I wasn't sure to whom I was writing this post when I first began. Was it to the bereaved, those of us limping along without the people we thought would live forever, or was it for the rest of you trying to figure us out? I decided the answer is yes, for each one of us is going to have a turn...we're the lost ones, wandering in a fog of grief, or we're watching someone else and hoping they don't lose their way. If you aren't there just now, give thanks and enjoy the moment, but don't gloat. You will undoubtedly have your turn. So, I'm passing along another grief lesson that you might find helpful along the way. With God's help, I'm going to get through it. With the support of friends and the passing of time, there is healing and hope. But on some level I'm not going to "get over it", because...
5. Life will never be the same again.
It's been a year, and while I only caught a glimpse of this truth last year at this time, I'm realizing it more deeply these days. Those were the words I heard just today from another "only child" at the funeral of his mother. I think this is always true, that life is constantly in a state of fluidity and change and growth and loss, but at these poignant moments when the earth shifts beneath our feet, we know it more clearly than we have ever known before. In my case, it means, to give one small example, that someone else lives in "my" house, and I don't have much of a reason to visit the town that was the center of my universe for decades. When I drove by recently, I felt a little outraged by the weeds in Mom's flowerbeds...It's just not the same. It used to look so tidy. (Like my life...) It is too late to pull those weeds, to choose a few (more) plants to transplant to the Hickory Lane gardens, too late to do a better job of cherishing the moments while I've got them...but, I'm realizing...
6. It is never too late to send a card.
I think I still remember who sent me the last sympathy card after the initial rush of grief mail. And I remember the person who, at my father's funeral, told me she had a card she wanted to send me after my mother's death. (I'm still waiting.) And what she doesn't know, and I didn't understand either until...now, is that it is never too late to send a card. When I receive a card, weeks/months after the death, the funeral, the cleaning out of the room...I don't think -"Oh, this card is so late, the sender is a slacker.." No, my heart takes a little lurch, my eyes fill with tears, because someone still remembers. This kindly person, this thoughtful friend of my mother, this aging cousin of my dad, knows that while time has passed, my loved one is still gone. Life swirls on around me, fills in the gaps and dips like a wave erasing a sand castle on the beach, and some days I think I am the only one who remembers these dear and precious people. Those "late" cards are just in time to remind me that someone else remembers. I've discovered...
7. People like to know that their loved one hasn't been forgotten.
I like it when acquaintances pass along stories about my dad or my mom. It's dawned on me lately that the story pool is shrinking. My parents' extended family members and their peer group are, one by one, moving on to a better place, and when they leave us, the stories are gone. I'm left with a box full of pictures but no one to explain the stories...
So, what exactly is my dad doing in this picture??>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
My favorite cards were the ones that told stories, memories of my parents. Some of them I had never heard before....when the neighbor's car drifted across the road and ended up in my parents prized front yard blue spruce! The neighbor's son, who passed along the story, said he followed his dad to the front door of my house...to find the two men laughing harder than he had ever heard either of them laugh.
Passing along the stories keeps the memories alive, but reality pinches hard some days, and I am abruptly aware that my parents are still gone. And always will be. "Gone but not forgotten," we say. But, bit by bit by bit, the stories are forgotten and then these people who were flesh and bone lose the colorful bits that made their lives three dimensional, and I am left with a monochromatic photo collection in shades of faded sepia. I lose track of the woman whose friends told me they would always remember her giggle...(my mom giggled???), I can no longer hear the voice of that man who never forgot a joke, until he forgot everything.
Days like this one, the anniversary of my dad's homegoing, keep me in touch with one more life lesson in grief.
8. Grief is a journey.
I don't know what I thought it would be like, adjusting to life without my parents, but this is not what I had in mind. This stumbling journey on a path fraught with pot holes of pain and gravel slides of grief doesn't seem to have a destination. Just when I think I've made some "progress" I sit through another funeral and know that the healing is still in process. Most of all, I am reminded that I am not home.
So perhaps there is a journey's end after all, and I have simply lost sight of the bigger picture. My true destination is heaven, and it will be glorious. My dad and mom are both renewed and whole; they just aren't "here." Soon enough, I will go there. And only then will the journey be complete. On that day, when perhaps someone here grieves my departure, I will be welcomed to the other shore without delay, without grief.
But until then, detour ahead.
We are not home yet.