I come from a great family. I grew up in a home with two amazing parents who were married for almost 70 years. Both lived into their 90s. I lost my father about 11 years ago and my mom died about 3 years ago. Before they died, I had never really lost anyone close to me. I had never lost a friend or a relative who was the same age as me. My parents were both sick prior to their deaths, so neither passing was unexpected.
I had always thought that grief was something that happens at funerals. People get together, cry a lot, hug one another, then they go to someone’s home, or to a restaurant perhaps, and eat. A few days later, they return to work or their normal routines. In my mind, that was grief.
When my father died, I was living far away from home. I made the trip back for the funeral, but the next day, I returned home. Life continued. I moved to a new apartment. Then the Canadian Thanksgiving happened (early October for us), and it was the first holiday without my father. I decided to take a couple of pictures of my parents, go to a restaurant, put the pictures on the table, and have Thanksgiving dinner “with them”. As I drove to the restaurant, I felt tears welling up in my eyes. I was on a country road and there was nowhere to turn around, or even pull over. I got to a place to turn my car around, but it was just a place to pull in and swing my car around and head back. I made it to an empty baseball field, parked and the tears flowed. There were times when I would be in a store and something would trigger a memory, and tears would run down my cheeks. I broke down once when I packed away a dark green windbreaker my father bought me. I still have it even though I doubt I can wear it now.
For months I could not talk about my father without crying. Images of him flooded my mind. My response to my mother’s death was somewhat different. She died of dementia, the long goodbye, as some people call it. Everyone in the family knew she was dying, but the moment it happens you are never really prepared, not for that moment, when you hear a loved one say that Mom died last night or Dad died last night. You are never fully prepared for that. Emotionally, I held it together pretty well until the funeral when, after the service, I went up to her casket, put my hand on the casket, and thanked her for everything she had done for me, which was a lot. I walked out of the chapel, sat on a bench and wept.
Years later, I can still hear her voice, at times, I can still hear things she said to me. It’s weird, but I don’t think loved ones ever really leave you in that regard. I can talk about my parents now without breaking down. I can recall memories, laugh at some of the things they did, the quirky things we found strange, but maybe they weren’t that strange. I can look through family photos and my appreciation for the people I have lost grows ever deeper, but sometimes so does my desire to give them one more hug, to be able to tell them one more time that I love them. One summer day, my mom and I went out for the afternoon. She loved ice cream, so almost every trip involved stopping somewhere for ice cream. We were sitting in the car, “destroying the evidence” as she called it, when a woman came up to the window and said that I was so lucky. I asked what she meant, and she said that I should enjoy these moments with my mom while I have them. They would be gone far too soon. She was so right about that.
I don’t know if I handle grief any better than anyone else. I know that it is essential to grieve, to feel the pain of the loss in order to one day experience the joy of appreciating the life I had with my parents.
As always, your comments are welcome.
Categories: The Coffee Shop