How do you have Fathers’ Day when there’s no father?
It’s one thing when your father died at approximately his appointed time. Although I feel my father was taken before his time, by who knows what assault on his brain that caused his loss of speech and, quickly, a further decline, he was my father and older than me, and that made his illness and death a micron easier to come to terms with than the death of my children’s father, my husband, when my children had just turned 16.
Now I have no idea what to do on Fathers’ Day. It’s barely a week after my own father’s birthday. He and Adam are buried close to each other in the churchyard, but it seems too solemn to go there. I don’t think they are there. I just don’t know.
This is such an extremely difficult time of the year for our family. It is cheek-to-jowl with birthdays, anniversaries, and other anniversaries we’d as soon not remember. I feel the days must be marked but I just don’t know how. Til now I’ve used the excuse that I just couldn’t deal with it but that excuse can’t last forever.
I’m trolling for ideas. If any of you have rituals that have been soothing for you and your families, I’d appreciate your sharing.
Post Script: I worked myself to death at work; thank goodness for the distraction. Then I met someone at home to talk about draperies. Then the kids and I went to dinner and I had wine. And the thoughts and the pain remain. But I tried.
Something’s obviously up. It’s before 8 a.m. and I’m answering and posting Facebook quizzes. There’s some classic avoidance going on here. Why, you ask?
At least I know why, thanks to the advice to put all of Adam’s anniversaries on my calendar, denying them the chance to take me by surprise and cripple me.
Four years ago our dear Tom, despite his own illness, operated on Adam’s brain and removed two melanoma tumors that were creating pressure in his brain. Our hope was that this surgery would, in relieving the pressure, allow Adam to discontinue the steroids that precluded the beginning of chemotherapy. We hadn’t been able to treat the cancer in his body because we were trying so desperately to get the brain under control.
My lovely sister came to Wake Forest to figuratively hold my hand during the surgery. She did a good job–keeping her peace but keeping an eye on me.
I’ll never forget the moment Tom came into the waiting room in his clean scrubs to give me a positive report, and people staring as I gave him a big hug. I guess it’s not routine for people to hug the surgeon.
Then it was into the ICU. Amazingly, Adam seemed to be better off than many of those in the unit. The guy beside him probably did not make it. I can’t remember the details anymore, but this guy was perilously ill. His situation put me in a curious state of calm.
Our rector happened to be in Winston for a conference, and came by to give his support along with his colleague from Dickerson Chapel in Hillsborough. As I had during so much of Adam’s treatment, I felt so blessed to have been surounded by caring friends willing to go out of their way to show their concern and support.
Caroline wanted a picture of her dad to reassure her that he was ok, and I’m thankful for the post-op picture I have of him. His color was so good, he looked so healthy except for the huge line of staples in his head. And because the surgeon was our friend, we also have a picture of Adam’s brain! It was such a good brain, and an unutterable shame that it was invaded by cancer.
Well I’ve gone on long enough on a morning when I’m supposed to be getting ready for work. Just had to get this out so I could concentrate on something else. I hope.
As always, thanks for listening.
From Tuesday, May 4…
What is *UP*? No anniversaries until the 17th, but something is biting at me.
One of the more awful things about grief, to me, is that you can be having a great day, a great week, even, and then you innocently open a binder wondering if you can use it for recipes and *boom*! you’re back there in that awful time and place.
So you might be guessing that this very thing just happened to me, and you’d be right.
I *finally* got a job, one I actually look forward to doing. I started yesterday. It was great to be out of the house for a change. Didn’t go in today so have been taking care of office work here. Was looking for a binder for aforementioned recipes and found a stash in the closet off of my office. Opened it to remove its contents, and was slapped in the face by a sheaf of radiology reports. Line after line of descriptions of pulmonary and adrenal tumors, liver tumors, a large mass on the iliac crest.
Nausea. Grief. The realization that I’d never seen these reports. He hid them from me, away in this binder. He didn’t want me to know. Knife in the heart and more grief for him bearing so much of his illness alone. I mean, that’s the way he wanted it but we always like to “be there” don’t we?
I just had to stop working. The nausea is still with me and I feel the need for a nap—a sure sign of stress.
And that’s not all. Last night, early this morning, rather, I had that dream again, the one where he’s alive and in my life, only to tell me he’s leaving me for someone else. This time he didn’t seem so sick, though, so maybe I’m healing in some small way. When he showed up in my dream I must have asked him where he’d been, because he said he’d been in California. A business trip.
Life and emotions sure are complicated.
My lovely daughter posted this essay and photo on Facebook and has allowed me to share it here. Enjoy another viewpoint.
Dan Moller contends that, when the people closest to us recover quickly from grief after our deaths, this shows that we were relatively unimportant to these people – because our loved ones can function quickly after our deaths without us, and we are easily replaceable in our functional roles. We can always have another lover, another father (stepfather, for instance), another friend. So, quick recovery is deeply regrettable.
To me, this is a gross underestimation of the “importance” that we have in the lives of our loved ones.
For one, grief is nonlinear. We go back to our emotional baselines, or create new ones, because society does not ensure time for extended periods of grief – we are forced to keep living.
Secondly, functionality does not speak to importance, or love. We do not reduce our loved ones down to the role they play in our lives – their inherent value does not lie in this “importance.” Their importance is in the completely unique qualities that make them who they are, and who they are to us. We love them for that – for who they are – not their roles. Our being able to move on after the death of someone we love is not a testament to their unimportance of our lives.
My father was one of the most important people in my life. But I could not continue in life, at 16 years old, constantly consumed by my grief for losing him. I couldn’t get into college, get a job, pursue my life without pushing my anger and despair aside.
But I think about him every day. And some days the memory of him hits me hard. I despair over the pain he was in, how lonely he must have felt, how I could not reach him in the last month of his life.
That certainly gives testament to the fact that he was important to me. Because who he was, the person he was, was degraded by the cancer that infected his body, his brain.
Grief is nonlinear, and my father was, and is, part of me. So don’t tell me that my survivors resilience is regrettable. I grieve every day for my father.
The closing line of a show I was watching said that life is too long to be alone. We all lost our spouses at different life stages, and you know from the title of this blog that I lost mine early. I’m not really excited about meeting someone else since I always thought Adam was *the one* for me, but I have to say, as I’ve said before on these pages, that if Liam Neeson realizes I’m here and available, I think we could be a good couple. Wink wink.
Seriously, I think there was good information in that line, but my goodness, moving on is awful.
Happy pollen season.
In the cover photo, you can see two figures walking on the beach. This couple was supposed to be me and Adam. I found the painting after his death, but it resonated so deeply with me that I bought it. I have it down here at the beach, where I have been for the past several days. Today is a cloudy, raw day like the one depicted in the painting.
When I was out for my beach walk today I thought a lot about this picture. Daily, I walk and walk on the beach, and pass so many couples, most of them my age or older, and it’s hard work not to resent them. In fact, I feel that way a lot. Resentful. Couples on Facebook trying the latest restaurant, going to some fabulous foreign destination, or just poking fun at each other while staying home. That is what *I* am supposed to be doing right now! Adam and I are supposed to be enjoying each other again!
Yet I’m able not to dwell on it, so, although I’m momentarily resentful, I’m mostly happy for couples who have made it through family-raising and are enjoying each other’s company again. Adam and I were married for seven years before having kids, and I cherish that time we had together while everyone else was in the throes of diapers and kinder-viruses.
Feelings of resentment can be especially keen here at the beach. Adam bought this place for me. I never dreamed that I’d have my own place at the beach to which I could escape, and his hard work and love for me made it happen. For a long time I thought this place was all about me, but it clearly was a place he loved as well. It was the place he wanted to come when he was flying home from Japan and realized that something was terribly wrong with him. He didn’t even want to go home first; I picked him up at the airport and we headed straight here. And I think he wanted to die here. Despite how sick he was and how uneasy I was about coming, he insisted that we head for the beach on a hot July day. We were packed and ready to pull out of the driveway at home and the car wouldn’t start, even though it had started only minutes before so that we could turn it around to load up. Adam went to the hospital the next day and never came home. The day we were supposed to leave was our 23rd anniversary.
I can’t imagine not being able to come here and think of him as I stroll the beach or eat at my favorite restaurants and look jealously at the happy couples all around me. Despite my envy, I do remember that we had that, too. And because I’m healing, I strike up conversations with the couples around me, bandaging that still-open wound, if just for a little while.