Since my dad died in October 2016, I have been reminded that I am on a journey. Grief is a journey that we don’t want to take, but everyone has to embark on it at one time or another, if he or she lives long enough.
Now that my second parent has died, I feel adrift, as if if my moorings have come loose. Sometimes my grief expresses itself in not being able to concentrate. At other times, I feel impatience and rage as I’ve never felt them before. For instance, I have recently gotten really angry at people who do stupid stuff in traffic—like the pedestrian who jaywalks in front of me at dusk and yells at me (to which my response was to roll down my window and yell back, “I couldn’t SEE you!”—also wanting to say, “You moron!). Or the driver who sees a traffic accident that just happened and stops his car in front of me rather than using his turn signal and pulling over to the side of the street (or at least turning on his hazard lights). I got uncharacteristically angry at such an incident earlier this week, and I thought about yelling at the STUPID person who DARED to stop his car without warning … and then I remembered, “Wait, he is wanting to help. But what an IDIOT! How does he expect me to read his mind? Not to mention that it’s dark, and the other two lanes of traffic were already blocked by the accident, and now he’s blocking my way home, and I am driving in my new (to me) car and could have hit him, and all these other cars are slowing down…and…
Something deeper is going on inside. I am raging because I miss my dad. And my mom. And the family we used to be. Sure, my mom died way back in 1991 when I was 32, but the death of my dad has stirred up that old grief that never completely healed.
I am doing strange things.First is the absent-mindedness. I have misplaced several items, such as my prescription sunglasses (which went missing for nearly 2 weeks), my water bottle (I left it in a bathroom at church), and most recently my Starbucks gold card, which unfortunately tI just reloaded this week. It’s maddening to have to retrace my steps and figure out where I might have left something.
I’ve been reading booklets on grief, which I never thought I would do, but they make me feel better because they reassure me I am not going crazy. I haven’t dreamed about my dad since he died. That is different from the way I experienced grief over my mom’s death. I have been having dreams about being left somewhere by someone dear to me. Maybe that’s a sign I feel abandoned.
Sometimes in choir I will sing a line of a hymn or an anthem, and the words get to me. A wave of grief washes over me, and I think I will drown. Tears spring to my eyes.
Not long ago I found the obituary I’d written for my dad, and I rewrote it. Now what good is that going to do, more than 4 months after his death? I was so dissatisfied with the obituary I’d written. It reported just the facts and didn’t give a sense of the kind and loving person my dad was. Here is some information that I left out of the obituary: My dad was an avid gardener. My mother always called him “p-tic” (meaning particular), and he was indeed a stickler for details. He had trouble fixing things, and I think it frustrated him to no end.
He was careful, but not miserly, with his money. He was generous with his love and attention, and he generously shared his time, talents, and love to help others. Daddy served as volunteer treasurer of the Clinch Valley Baptist Association for more than 22 years. He was a member of the Canton (NC) Civitan Club and was their treasurer for a few years after he moved there in 1994 at age 71.
He was a night owl. As a teenager, I loved sitting up with him at night at our kitchen table as I did my homework and he paid bills and balanced his checkbook (to the penny). Whenever I entered a room where he was (at home, at the hospital, or at his assisted living and later nursing home), he lit up and smiled at me as if I had just made his day by my mere presence with him.
A week or two ago, I started sleeping with a teddy bear that belonged to my daughter when she was young. Somehow having this small symbol of love at my back while I sleep helps me feel a little better. On nights that I have trouble sleeping, I just hug that little green bear and think about my dad.
My dad always had my back. Last week I listened to a voicemail he’d left on my phone in June 2016. Daddy had called to see how I was feeling because I’d missed work the day before. That is so characteristic of him.
Today I was reading a meditation on grief titled “Death Never Takes a Holiday.”* One of our Upper Room Books authors, Richard L. Morgan, mailed me the book when he found out about my dad. It’s been sitting on my desk for months, and I finally opened the book. “Grief is awkward and uncomfortable,” I read. Yep. “The word grief means ‘heavy.’ It may well be the heaviest weight a person must bear. Death is the unwelcome intruder that stole your loved one and robbed you of love and joy. Life will never be the same.” Yes, that’s certainly true.
The meditation ends with a prayer: “Lord Jesus, you were acquainted with grief. You wept aloud when your friend Lazarus died. We feel so bereft and alone without our loved one, but you have a part in this sorrow that tears our heart.”
In another booklet titled Experiencing Grief (this one a gift from my church), I found this wisdom: “In a sense, grieving is actually a show of faith. We are trusting God to hold us in our most vulnerable time, when our feelings are raw, our life is in pieces, and our strength is gone. If that isn’t faith, I’m not sure what is.”**
Whew. It’s okay for me to feel this bereft, even though I know in my heart that my dad is with God. It is comforting to know that Jesus understands how I feel. Jesus knows what it means to feel bereft and alone. I can make it through this journey of grief if I lean on him.
*Richard L. Morgan, Meditations for the Grieving, Copyright 2005, Wipf & Stock.
**Kenneth C. Haugk, Experiencing Grief, Book 2 in the Journeying Through Grief series. Copyright 2004 by Stephen Ministries.