Contemplating Grief

I’m not setting out to be depressing or sad.  I’m just posting some of the things I’ve written, lately, as I unload my brain, a bit.

I said that death changes the living. For six months, I’ve been learning how to grieve. People said it would get easier; that it wouldn’t get easier, you’d just learn to live with it; that it’s hard. Lots and lots of messages. In the wake of her death, I changed. Six months later, and I’m probably closer to the me that my loved ones are used to and I feel more like myself, mostly. But I’m different. Matt said in those early days of mourning that I was more quiet. Avery will ask on days where I’m crabby or sad if I “Miss Grandma?” because it’s the easiest explanation for her to grab. Sometimes, yes. Sometimes, it’s just a crappy day, kiddo.

I have several friends who lost parents. Each in their own way has been an amazing comfort. One answered my bizarre grieving questions with permission to marginalize everyone but myself. Another talked through the surprise and awe of grief. And another remembers me, every time the 2nd of a month comes around. Knowing I’m not alone helps, but also understanding that grief is as personal as it gets makes sharing difficult, sometimes.

Grief didn’t just change me. It changed my dad. He was my mother’s caretaker and partner. She was mobile, in full control of her faculties, but her health could sometimes be a challenge. He was the chief grocery shopper, the main housekeeper, and the other ear for doctor proclamations. Now he wanders around the house and finds things to keep him busy. We all assumed he would end up a widower, which sounds morbid, but isn’t: his health was and is far better than hers. What none of us anticipated is how lost that would leave him feeling. They were together for decades. Married longer than they’d lived apart. Married as very young adults. While in the end Dad took care of the basics, Mom was the cruise director. He has lots of time on his hands.

Don’t get me wrong, he is managing well. Far better than anyone could expect, although I don’t really know what that means. He’s finding a new sense of community, and learning how to keep himself busy with other tasks. Sometimes his adventures surprise me, because I’d never have guessed he’d attempt some of the things he does. His grief sometimes overwhelms him, which is understandable. I find I’m much more compassionate for his grief than my own.

Death changed our relationship, too. I worry more about him. Before Mom died, I knew without thinking about it that if something happened, there would be someone to let me know. Now? If I haven’t talked to Dad in a few days, a nagging sense of dread will creep in until he returns my call. Being so very far away hurts and frightens me, and yet I also recognize the reality that I must continue to live my life, too. I still rely on him to be the wise anchor with sage, pithy advice or insight, but I feel his fragility more than I used to, even if it’s just perceived. And he’s more careful with me, too. He keeps me updated with things that I usually just knew a bit about before, and he’s careful about sharing some aspects of his grief, because grieving for a spouse is so very different from grieving for a parent.

My mother and I were close, and like many close relationships, there were complicated aspects. It isn’t worth re-hashing, just worth acknowledging. I never expected that her dying would cause those tensions to evaporate, and it didn’t. However, I find them less important, now. They live as characteristics, like her eyes which were steel blue. Or her hands, which were slightly larger versions of my own, only with a beautifully maintained manicure, even if her nails were unvarnished. The things that bothered me before she died still bother me. Why couldn’t she choose differently? But now? They are only questions, without the passion and frustration behind them. That quiet patience that has filtered in over those things is maybe the biggest surprise as I confront my own grief: I have yet to feel anger toward her for dying, and I don’t know if I ever will. It’s as though I used up all the anger and frustration while she was living.

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