I haven’t written much more about dealing with my dad’s unexpected passing. Part of that is because I don’t want to bore you with my grief. But mostly it’s been because I am a firm believer in thinking the thoughts you want to feel. If you surround yourself with sadness, you’ll be sad. If you surround yourself with laughter, then you’ll be happy.
Well, in a very shallow, theoretical nutshell.
But sometimes, when you stuff all that sadness into that shallow, theoretical nutshell, it just wells up after a while. That’s what has happened to me this past week.
The loss of my dad is with me every day. I think about him all the time, but usually I try not to think about it. In those first few weeks, it almost felt good to think about the sadness. Comforting, somehow. As if feeling the sadness kept Dad close by. But as the weeks have gone by, that comforting sadness has passed and now it just hurts to be so upset. So, I have found the best way to deal with it is to keep myself busy, which, thankfully, is not hard to do in our house. In those down times when all is quiet, like early in the morning or at night before bed, I have been reading to take my mind away. I go through books like crazy these days, but it keeps my mind from being idle.
No matter how hard I try, though, that sadness has to go somewhere. You can only ignore it for so long before it has to be released. Those waves of palpable grief used to hit me out of nowhere. I would suddenly become consumed by sadness without any warning, and the tears would shake me as bad as they did in that first week. As time has gone by, I’ve had less and less of those unexpected moments. Now, I know when they are coming because I’ve learned to recognize the signs.
First, I notice that I can’t stop talking about my dad. Not in a sad way or anything, but I just bring him up a bit more in conversations. When that starts to happen, I start to think about him more directly. Not just about life in general without him, but about specific things. Like, I’ll remember how he used to walk into rooms, raise his arms over his head and announce, “Well, I’m here!” Or I’ll think about how every time he used to hug me goodbye, he used to whisper in my ear, “You’re such a great mom, Kitten.” Really vivid, distinct memories of him that I normally try to avoid thinking about.
When I start having those kinds of painfully sweet memories, I’ll start to wish that I could cry. For all the jokes I make about crying and boo-hooing over things, I’m actually not much of a crier. But thinking about my dad, I’ll start to wish I would just go ahead and cry and get it over with. Because I know that it’s coming. And usually, within a day or two of those thoughts, it will just all come sweeping over me one day.
Usually it’s at night just after I’ve put the kids to bed. That’s a hard time for me, especially lately. Gracie has become enthralled with pictures of my dad. A couple weeks ago, I framed a picture for each of the kids rooms of each of them with Dad. Gracie loves the picture I put in her room. Every night before she goes to bed, she wants to show me the picture of “ga-dad” and every morning when she wakes up it is the first thing she points to. We usually sit and talk to her picture for a couple minutes, and I tell her how much Granddad loves her and we say “I love you” to Granddad, too. I love that, but it is also really hard and occasionally, I’ll put her down and then have to go sit in my room for a couple minutes by myself.
Bean has had such an odd reaction to Dad’s passing. He doesn’t want to talk about him at all, but every couple weeks, he’ll ask me a question out of the blue. Usually, it’s about where Granddad has gone. He knows that Granddad has gone to Heaven to live with God, and he knows that God and Granddad both love us very much. But he has become increasingly interested in what and where exactly Heaven is (proving beyond the shadow of a doubt that he in, in fact, his father’s son…).
Last week was the most satisfying conversation we’ve had about Dad, actually, for both of us. Randomly, on the way home from school one day, Bean asked me where Granddad and God’s house was. I told him (again) that their house was in Heaven. Bean thought about that for a minute and then said, “And Heaven is up in the sky, right?” He thought about that some more and then asked one of the most important, significant, profound questions a person can ask.
“What does God’s house look like?” he said.
I had to take a breath before answering because he took my breath away for a second.
“Well,” I said, trying to think quickly on my Mom feet and try to pull my very little knowledge of the Book of Revelations out of my head. “I haven’t been to his house before, but I think it has gold on the floors there and treasure in the walls.”
“Wow!” Bean gasped. “Treasure like in Jake and the Neverland Pirates?”
“Yes!” I said, deciding to go with that.
“That’s so cool!”
“It is pretty cool,” I agree.
“And what do God and Granddad do there together?” Bean asked.
“Well, I bet they play games and talk and make jokes together, just like you do with your friends.”
“Oh,” Bean said, thinking that over. “That would be fun.”
“You know what else I bet they do? I bet they talk about how much Granddad misses hanging out with you. You were always his favorite to hang out with, you know.”
“Yeah,” said Bean quietly. “Do you think I could go play with them, too?”
“One day,” I said, all choked up. “One day we will all go play together with them. And I can’t wait.”
“Me either,” said Bean.
Bean sat there for a minute and then said thoughtfully, “I bet Granddad is having a great time.”
It is so very, very hard to be a parent sometimes and it is so very, very hard to live a normal life while grieving. But sometimes when those two things collide, it seems like my heart is literally breaking.
I know it won’t always be like this, but I’ll tell you, right now in this moment, the loss of my dad feels overwhelming. This weekend, my mom and I were having a low moment together and through her tears, she said, “It feels greedy to be sad because we have so much to be thankful for.” And I know just what she meant, but I’m starting to think that happy and sad aren’t always balanced. Though the happiness we had with my dad and the happy memories we are able to hold onto far outweigh the sadness, they don’t replace it. While I would like to think that just being around happiness and laughter can block out the weight of grief, I think my very shallow, theoretical nutshell might be cracked. The sadness might be overwhelming and exhausting, but it is just a natural part of carrying the cross of mourning.
So, I have good days and I have low days. And that might be just how it’s supposed to be.