I looked outside his window and saw the sky light up with hues of pink. The sun was setting, and I couldn’t help but bask in the irony of it all. The sunset that evening was breathtaking. I was in awe. The world outside of his hospice room was filling with such radiant beauty. But inside… these four walls contained just darkness. A tangible darkness, if you will; one you could feel weighing on your chest. I sat at his bedside holding his lifeless hand in mine. Tears were falling down my face as I realized that I was already mourning the loss of my dad, though his heart still beat. His body lay present, but his personhood–the dad I grew up knowing–the dad that I loved… he was gone. I watched as his chest would rise and fall, and I listened as that deep rumble would leave his body with each breath. It was mechanical at this point; as if no intention were left in his soul.
I squeezed his hand, and kissed his cheek for one last time. I leaned over him, and whispered my final goodbyes. “I’ll see you in the mountains, Daddy,” I remember saying.
Growing up you assume that you will outlive your parents. You assume that one day you will have to lay your parents to rest. But not now; not like this. I always thought he would be older. Hell, I thought I would be older. I thought it would be of old age, and that it would be this quiet and peaceful thing. Isn’t that what we all long for?
I watched as cancer fiercely ripped my father’s life away from me. I watched as he lay in anguish, because the drugs could not touch his pain. True Hell on Earth. Countless nights were spent tossing and turning with my phone volume on high. I was in this perpetual state of waiting. Waiting for what the morning would hold. What would my father’s new normal be? What freedom would he lose tonight? What part of his body would give way to the turmoil the cancer was inflicting upon it? But just as ferociously as the cancer came, it so too went. November 20th came with a great sense of relief for my dad, because he was finally free. But that day also left behind such bitterness and anger in me.
One thing I learned from all of this is that time stops for no one. Life is given, and life is taken away. And the days? They carry on, as if nothing ever happened; as if every fiber of my being wasn’t rocked to its very core.
I was changed. How could I not be?
After bearing witness to such suffering, somehow I was supposed to return home to my old life. I had a tiny human growing inside of me, two beautiful souls to raise, and a spouse to love. But that person I was, the things I used to find joy in, the life that once gave me such purpose…. it was gone.
“Less Than” is what I utter to myself in the mirror, because I am less than the person I was, and less than the person I ought to be. Even harsher is the reality that the life I’m living is less than the life my dad would have desired for me to live. There are nights I’ll allow myself to sit in the darkness, in the grief, and I think how sad? How truly sad my dad would be if he knew where I was at.
I am so humbly aware of the fact that who I once was, is not who I am today. There is an underlying sadness that I carry with me now every single day, because my dad is not here. There is a darkness that beckons me to come, sit, let the anguish overtake me. It is overwhelming and debilitating at times.
I’m sure some of you are reading this, and are now worried for my wellbeing. You’re crying out through your computer screens for me to be strong, to think of my family, to think of the little ones who call me ‘mom’. Some of you are probably asking where is my faith? Where is my God? There may even be some of you contemplating picking up the phone….don’t.
This is grief.
It is multifaceted, it is cyclical, and it is ongoing. It is darkness, but it is also light. Within it, grief contains memories of joy, laughter, and love. But yet it also contains the heavy memories of anguish and terror. Grief can bring moments of peace as I watch my son drum along to his Papaw’s music. But it can also bring moments of despair as I flip through pictures of my older kids being held by their Papaw for the first time, and then realize that there are no pictures of him with my youngest.
There are days where grief is a raging river that overcomes every bit of my soul, and I am left gasping for air. I can hear my dad asking when I am due with the new baby, and I can feel the silence filling up the room as we all realize he will never meet his new grandson. I can see him hunched over in his favorite recliner, tears rolling down his face, as he whispers to us that he is done; that there is no more fight left in him. I can see his restless body thrashing around begging for peace. I am left treading in these violent memories, feeling my body grow weak, and begin sinking deeper in it.
But then there are days where it comes as a gentle mist from an ocean shore. It is something I choose to bask in, and choose to wallow in the sweet memories that it brings forth. I can see my dad sitting with his guitar in hand. I can see my kids gathered around him; taking turns with his pick. I can see his smile. I can hear his laugh. I can hear the awful, yet beautiful music he is creating with his grandkids. His memory is so real that I can almost reach out and touch his skin.
This, all of this…. The good the bad, the sorrow the joy, the dark the light. All of it…
This is Grief.