Tomorrow is my commencement ceremony for community college. After two years of hard work, I’ve successfully completed my two-year Associate of Arts degree and will be transferring to a university in the fall. I’m excited and proud of myself, but reaching another one of those bigger milestones in life without my dad being there to cheer me on makes me miss him even more than normal.
And Father’s Day, my least favorite day of the year, is also this weekend. Another fatherless Father’s Day. The cutesy little Father’s Day crafts littering Pinterest, the random cashier asking if I have any plans with my dad this weekend, and tacky cards proclaiming things like “You’re the best dad in the whole wide world!” all make my heart ache.
On Tuesday, partly due to all the Father’s Day propaganda, the reality that Dad won’t be at my commencement to see me decked out in my academic bling hit me hard. And it’s continued to be a rough week as a result.
Sometimes I wish my life and my emotions were more simple, straightforward. That when something exciting happens—like when I graduate on Friday or when I get married in about a year and an half—I could just be happy. But instead of just feeling accomplished or excited, there’s always a shadow hanging over everything because dad won’t be there. I’ll be planning or anticipating something positive but then, out of nowhere, it will hit me that Dad won’t be there. And then I feel like a little girl crying her heart out at her father’s funeral, wanting nothing more than to just see him again. I almost feel like I need to plan in a day before any major holiday or life event where I can fall apart and cry.
Between graduating and Father’s Day it’ll be an interesting weekend—wonderful, difficult, exiting, sad, messy.
If I’d been asked to describe the progression of grief a few years ago, I would’ve assumed that it’d work through a nice orderly timeline. It’d start at the loss and work through different emotions (anger, sadness, frustration, etc.) in some sort of logical order. Each emotion would be a level and once worked through, you’d move on to the next stage in the process. Eventually, you would reach the finish line and, although it might not make you want to dance with joy, the subject would cause little or no pain and you would be back to “normal.”
I’ve since concluded that grief does not follow a systematic timeline with a designated, concrete finish. Instead, it often reminds me of a rollercoaster—up and down, to and fro, and all without any warning. You hang on so tight your fingers hurt, scream your head off, and try not to get sick on the unlucky person who is seated in front of you. Continue reading
My psych teacher offered some great, practical advice when posed with the question: “How do I talk to my friend whose grandma died? Does she want me to talk about it or should I just ignore the subject?” My teacher’s reply: “Have you tried asking what she wants?”
I don’t know why, but it seems like many people, myself included, feel like they ought to instinctually know how to relate to a friend or family member who’s grieving and whether to bring “it” up or just pretend like nothing has even happened. It feels like I should just know what to do, so I sometimes feel badly because I’m honestly completely clueless. It leave me feeling like a social klutz.
John, a far-from-emotional weight room enthusiast, replied “Not very well” to the usual scripted pleasantries. His mother was dying; life was pretty damn crappy. John tried to mention how greatly his mother’s deterioration was impacting his entire family, how hard the stress level and grief had been on him lately. Behind the tough iron-pumping exterior, he was broken and hurting.
“An odd byproduct of my loss is that I’m aware of being an embarrassment to everyone I meet. At work, at the club, in the street, I see people, as they approach me, trying to make up their minds whether they’ll ‘say something about it’ or not. I hate if it they do, and if they don’t. Some funk it altogether… I like best the well brought-up young men, almost boys, who walk up to me as if I were a dentist, turn very red, get it over, and then edge away to the bar as quickly as they decently can. Perhaps the bereaved ought to be isolated in special settlements like lepers.” C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed (pg. 10)
Maybe Lewis is right, maybe the bereaved and everyone whose life just simply doesn’t resemble a Halmark card should be separated from the “happy” members of society the way lepers are separated from the healthy. Not only would it save the people unable or unwilling to address some of life’s not-so-happy moments the awkwardness, but it might also create a society where it’s okay to not always feel or be okay. It might.