I sat in the airport with my head against the cool glass. Outside the water pooled into puddles on the tarmac- it was as if the sky was weeping, sharing my overwhelming grief. My father was dead. My heart was numb. My head was blank. I felt as if I had been swallowed up by a cloud of cotton- soft and inviting, deafening and suffocating.
I have spent a great deal of my life functioning in crisis, managing the processes and getting things done in times of trauma. I always prided myself on having my shit together- I was the one who could keep it together. I know now that was because I was the one who could not let it go- I clung to the pieces for fear that if I put them down they would disappear. I kept moving so that I could avoid myself- run from the voices in my heart and in my head.
If I kept moving, I could deny the feelings welling up inside me.
Avoid the pain, the panic , the fear the loss, the joy, the hope, the angst, the want.
I hear the train whistle blow in the dark of the night- the sound mirroring the longing in my soul for something….. something in the distance- always just a bit out of site.
If I just kept moving.
I have no idea how I managed to get three children from Virginia to Chicago. Remember vaguely the resentment I felt at having to drive from Midway to Spring Grove- where the hell was that???
I remember walking into my brother’s house, the wall of grief hitting me at the door as I looked at my sibling- war torn and weary- broken shells of themselves.
The blessing was that for the most part, my family had more joy than pain- more good than bad- more beauty ….
We were not prepared. I was not prepared.
I fell into my husband’s arm.. and for just a moment- I was free. I was cared for- someone else picked up the burden and loosened the straps from my shoulders. For just a moment.
I can breath again.
Things moved quickly- children to manage, stories to hear, hands to hold. We gathered around the room like victims of a natural disaster- in shock and lost.
Our father had been the glue of the clan- the strong hand on the rudder- and now we were casting about the ocean with no direction and competing forces.
And like a black hole, the absence of my father cause a power vacuum.
It would cause fissures in our family that would last, small cracks that would grow and spread.
The death of my father cause profound changes in me as a person.
I value my father more now than I ever allowed my self to when he was alive. I don’t know why. With his passing, I allow myself not to sanctify him but rather to let the little things I let cloud my vision clear and I am able to see him for the man that he was, not the father that he wasn’t
I am the 8th of ten kids- – there were jealousies, there were perceived slights. At times, I felt invisible.
In adulthood,I built a life of being in service to others, not only because I was called to service, but because it was familiar. Because that way, I new I was welcomed. That way, I knew I was earning my keep.
Things I know now- My heart weeps for those who lose a loved one in a way now that I was not capable before. Much like knowing the love of a child after you have children losing a parent opens a lens in your heart that forever has changed the way I view loss.
I am deeply sorry for your loss- because now I understand what that loss really is.
I wasted time- there were so many years that I spent time in the same room with my father but not in the same space. I didn’t know him- not as a man, as a father. I was angry at the world and closed myself off to him.
I sit with that now- as a parent, I work to connect with my children- I am a better parent because I lost my father. I KNOW time is fleeting, there is never enough of it and that memories will be all they have someday- it is important to build them.
I tell my children stories- of how my husband and I met, of the time when I got drunk in high school, of when I made a mistake to trust a friend, when someone I didn’t know gave me faith in people, of when I laughed til I cried over something silly. I paint a picture of myself for them that is multifaceted- because I want them to have a gallery filled to comfort them – stories to share about who I was and what was important to me- how I existed in the world- not just the one dimensional role of care taker.
My mother is weak and fragile. This is not a judgment but an observation. When my father was alive, I saw my mother – she was frequently unhappy in her marriage and felt unappreciated. She has her own story and unfinished work. She was neglected and unrooted in childhood after 14 years in foster care and, I believe, could never trust that my father really loved her. He did.
She likewise now knows what she has lost- the irritations seem petty as she sits alone night after night. She misses my father’s company. She misses being a wife- the identity that is afforded by the label. She belonged to someone- for a woman raised in the foster care system- that sense of being was affirming of her right to be. I often describe my mother as being apologetic for living. She is selfish in many ways- a greedy child trying to fill a heart that has long been neglected and undernourished – vacant more so now when there is no one to kiss your cheek- even if you move to turn away, it is there. And now it is gone. She was loved- and the loss is deafening in its silence.
My mother is still loved- by me and my siblings. We are more attentive. More aware. The possibility of loss is real in our lives now and it has changed the perspective for many of us.
I know that I missed the pride of seeing my children through my father’s eyes. Justification of sorts. I was a good athlete in a family of great athletes. It was just another way I chose to feel weighed and measured – but I raised GREAT athletes. Swift and true, talented beyond my wildest dreams- and I would sit in the stands and catch myself turning to say to the ghost of my father- “ What do you think of them apples? Who knew….” Only to have the words hang on the wind. It was those nights as I watched my sons excel on the sports field that I missed my father the most- I finally had a something to talk about and he was no longer In the conversation.
Or when my daughter raised her hand to swear she would defend the constitution. Just as her father had and my father had. She was the next in a line those from my family willing to step forward. I wish he could have been there to see her in uniform.
But magic were the times that I felt him in the stands, heard his deep gravely voice amongst the din of the crowd and I knew- I knew …He knew.
I work hard to keep my father alive in the minds of my children- that they value integrity and community as he did. That they understand it not only takes a village- it takes a conscious effort to be an engaged part of the system.
My sense of community was engrained in me by the example my father modeled
Basketball coach, church usher, school board member. He gave. It wasn’t that my father wanted the attention- or maybe he did. What I do know was he believed you needed to be a part of the system- you needed to show up.
You needed to pick up your part of the rope and start pulling.
If not you than who?
What I know is my father loved my mother. Like many of their generation, their love was in large part obligation and habit. But my father spoke the only love language he knew how. He provided for her. He worked hard so she was secure. He was in service to her.
I grew up watching my father nuzzle my mothers neck as she worked at the stove with want in his eyes.
There is nothing sexier, more romantic, more complete for me than my husband’s breath on my neck and his arms around my waist as I cook. It is in my DNA., the ultimate sign of appreciation and desire.
I know that I miss my father. And I know that time brings no healing but rather a familiarity. I have grown used to the loss. It has become a part of me- that crack in my heart. It is not healed but it no longer bleeds. It just is.
I know that my father is with me. He watches over me. He sits with me. He loves me.
I KNOW my father in ways I was not capable of before his death and for that- I am grateful.
And for that, I am grieving.
And for that- I am growing.