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BOOK DISCUSSION ON GONE GIRL TOMORROW.
BOOK DISCUSSION ON GONE GIRL TOMORROW.
I have wanted to post about grief for over a month now, but didn't really know how to go about doing it. I know that I have a lot to say about the grieving process, but it felt weird to just take to my blog, "Hey guys! After my dad died I was really sad!" For some reason it felt like I couldn't just say that. It was too sad and too heavy and waaaaaay too vulnerable.
A few things, though, have encouraged me to be more brave with my writing. One is Anne Lamott's essay on grief entitled "Ladders." (From the book "Traveling Mercies." If you have lost someone close to you, you need to read this book NOW.) In it she states that "lifelong fear of grief keeps us in a barren, isolated place and only grieving can heal grief." And so I write this to not be afraid of grief. To take it head on. And perhaps I write this for selfish purposes, too. To heal a grief that never leaves, and to continually move away from such a barren and isolated place.
So here it goes.
Guys. After my dad died I was really sad.
I have written about the day I found out my dad died, about memories with my dad, about how I am adjusting now- three years later. What I have said nothing about is those first months after his death. Those first days trying to adjust back to normal life. The weeks after. The four months later. Those were the hardest times. Long and grueling and wildly unfair.
I know many of you may have lost someone close to you. If not, you certainly know somebody who has. And as sad as it is to think of, all of us will experience the death of a loved one. It's part of life. This post is hoping to help those who are currently experiencing grief or trying to help someone else experience grief. Or maybe just looking to understand an emotion that is moody and complex and multifaceted. I also want those who are grieving to know that what they are feeling and that it is normal and okay and even good to grieve. That one's a big one. It is good to be sad
"It is only by experiencing that ocean of sadness in a naked and immediate way that we come to be healed- which is to say, that we come to experience life with a real sense of presence and spaciousness and peace."
If you are grieving...
1. You might feel like you can't control your emotions. I can't tell you in those first months how often I felt enormous waves of grief, how little I could control the crying, how hard it was to put on the brave face. I remember sitting in the back of an English teaching strategies class at BYU. We were talking about designing effective rubrics. I sat in the very back with a hoodie covering my face, the silent tears making endless tracks. "Rubrics? Who gives a damn about rubrics!?" I thought. "My dad is gone and all you can tell me is that I need to use effective word choice when I make a rubric?!?" Right in the middle of class. Just crying and crying and hoping the hoodie could hide it all.
One morning, two months after my dad died, I woke up early to head to the school where I was doing my student teaching. In those early lonely moments, between wakefulness and sleep, I had forgotten my dad was dead. I got up and was staring in the mirror, brushing my teeth when BAM. It hit. I remembered. And the grief was so strong and powerful and wildly intense that all I could do was sit down on the toilet cry. Pitch dark outside, 6:10 am, all my roommates sound asleep, and I was sobbing uncontrollably on the toilet trying to get ready for work. I told myself I had to stop because my students would be able to tell I was crying, but I couldn't. I honestly could not stop myself and I was afraid that I was going to cry forever.
It hits during happy times, too. Totally out of the blue. At a joyful Christmas gathering, during a sweet movie, when joking with friends. Six months after my dad died, I was visitng my sister in Washington D.C. I was so excited to see her, to spend time with her after many months apart. I decided to bake brownies while she was putting her girls to bed. I felt so light and airy and I cracked that egg into the brownie mix and then suddenly I was just so sad. I cried silent tears into the brownie mix, watching them blend in with the oil and chocolate chips. Tears. Chocolate. Tears. Egg. Tears. Flour. I realized I hop on a plane and go visit my sister when I missed her, but I could never hop on a plane and go visit my dad when I missed him. I tried to will myself to stop before my sister saw me, but it was of no use.
2. You might feel mad. What surprised me was that I was angry. I knew sorrow was a part of grief, but anger? Mostly I was mad at other people. I worked at Sizzler, and I remember waiting on my tables on those first weeks after my dad's death, furious at the sweet little senior citizens who could barely walk to the salad bar. Why were they still alive? They were so old! They couldn't take care of themselves! My dad was only 61- young and healthy and active- riding a bike when the unexpected heart attack hit him. How dare these people be 10, 20, 30 years older than my dad and still alive?!? They had no right!
I was also mad at people who had "tragedy-free" lives. There were a couple of times in church where I heard people say things like, "I have had such a blessed life, I have all my family close to me," or "I'm so lucky, I haven't had any major tragedy happen in my life". Or the worst- "The Lord blessed my mom and kept her safe in the accident. I know He saved her life" I couldn't help but think, "So why didn't he save my dad? He loves you more than me?!?" Of course, I knew that wasn't so, and my faith in God got me through the tough days, but it was others' implications that God had somehow spared them tragedy because He loved them that would absolutely outrage me at times.
Even now I struggle with this. Why is it fair that people older than me have grandparents alive and I have all four grandparents dead and buried and a dad who will never meet my husband or children in this life? When people post on facebook that their grandma is sick and to please pray for her, I feel mad. Mad that they even have a grandma who is alive and that they don't have to understand the enormous grief of losing a father too soon and that they got more time with a grandparent than I got with a parent.
3. People will not know how to act around you. I learned after my dad died that I had to invite people into my circle. People can be so awkward about death that they will just avoid you because it makes them too uncomfortable. Especially people who have had no close experiences with death. My dad died on a Thursday. I went back up to BYU the next Tuesday, to take a test and work a shift at Sizzler. My roommates were home that night when I came home. They were so weird around me. I wanted them to hug me and keep me close to them and stay up all night asking me if I was okay and eating cookie dough and wiping my tears away. But instead they kept their distance from me. They talked about lots of things, but they didn't mention my dad. Neither did I. It was the big elephant in the room. I put on a brave face and acted like I was fine and we all pretended like nobody's dad had died and nobody was hurt.
After an hour or so of this I couldn't do the charade any long. So I went to bed and cried myself to sleep. Now, I love my roommates and to this day they are my best friends. But they just didn't know how to act around me. How to be there. They knew exactly how to make me feel better after a break up, but not after a parent's death. Their discomfort didn't allow them to love me and reach me in a way that I so desperately needed. My immense sorrow didn't allow me to see that I had to invite them in. If I would have known then that all I had to do was invite, to allow them to mention my dad, to let them see me hurt, I know they would have responded lovingly. But I didn't know how to. And they didn't know how to either.
4. You may feel very fragile, like you should be wearing a giant label- "HANDLE WITH CARE." I was thrust into finals week immediately following my dad's death. He wasn't even buried two weeks and I was trying to cram for exams that I couldn't care less about. I remember one teacher gave me a C on a project. I admit, I hadn't done my best work. But I had tried. I had dragged myself out of bed and put that stupid project together and I had handed it in on time. When she gave me a C, I just fell apart. Didn't she know I was hurt? Didn't she know that that was truly the best effort I could give at that time? And all I got back for my work and pain and suffering was a lousy C?
Another example. A few days after Christmas, I got a bad haircut. I burst into tears.
During this time I had a Korean foreign exchange roommate. We were roommates in every sense of the word, and nothing more. One night she was upset because nobody had changed the light bulb. Two weeks later I left the front door unlocked and someone broke in and stole our laptops. She was irate. She yelled at me and made me feel like an idiot. Normally, I would have been able to take the heat and admit my mistake. Instead I ignored her all the time, took to the internet to write nasty things about her, (Interestingly enough g.o.m.i. hammered me this past month for the post I wrote about her during that time. It has since been deleted.) and did things purposely to piss her off. In some twisted way it made me hurt a little less.
5. You may feel like jealous. This one goes along with the anger. I was just so incredibly jealous of everyone around me with a dad. I couldn't look at wedding pictures of brides with their dads knowing my own would be so glaringly absent from my big day.
One night my friend's dad was in town and he sat down and played a round of cards with us. He played a card that did not benefit him at all, but that he knew would help his daughter out. Everyone around the table booed and yelled, "Hey! Mandy's going to win now! Why did you do that!" and he just smiled and said something along the lines of "Well, I want my daughter to win too!" I remember thinking that was the sweetest thing. And I was jealous. So so jealous. My dad had always favored me. He had always done things like that and I was instantly filled with indescribable pain and missing. I excused myself from the game and sobbed in my bedroom. Why didn't I have a dad anymore who was always looking out for his little girl?
6. You may feel desperate for love. I'll just say this- I dated some real idiots right after my dad's death. One who never called, always texted, and never before 10 pm. Then there was the one who wasn't going to school or working, just totally bumming his life away. Oh and I can't forget the one who broke up with me and got back together with me three different times. So many dumb boys. Not even close to my type. Not even close to loving or caring or sensitive. Not even close to being what I needed or wanted. Just boys. Trying to fill a void.
7. It may feel like you will never stop hurting. The first two or three months after my dad died I didn't want to stop hurting. I felt like if the pain stopped it would mean I didn't love my dad anymore and that I had forgotten about him. That by keeping my grief close to me I could keep my dad close to me. Every day that passed I mourned because it separated me further and further from my dad. I knew I wouldn't feel so sad if I didn't have such big pieces of my dad still inside of me, but I wanted those pieces in me for the rest of my life. I was completely unwillingly to let any part of my dad go.
And so, the pain lingered. It came in when I was least expecting it and plopped itself down on the couch and stayed for long periods of time. It menaced and teased and didn't give me rest.
Each month got easier. But the pain was still there. I wondered if I would ever feel completely myself again.
Even now, I feel sudden bursts of unwelcome pain and missing. This past Father's Day it hit me so hard I had to go downstairs and fold laundry while Greg's family ate ice cream on the back porch and opened gifts. I tried to brush the tears away, tried to tell myself I should be past this by now, but I inevitably had to just let the tears flow. Let myself be sad for awhile. And three years later, I am realizing that it is okay that some days I need to miss my dad and be sad that he's not here to share my life with me. I have to allow myself to completely wallow in sorrow every once in a while in order to truly heal. Like good old Lamott says, "Don't get me wrong: grief sucks; it really does. Unfortunately, though, avoiding it robs us of life, of the now of a sense of living spirit." By grieving, I allow myself to live.
I will leave you with this last thought- I have probably already said far too much. Lamott states that "Grief ends up giving you the two best things: softness and illumination." With death, we lose so much, but so much remains. And some is even added to it. I have learned so much from losing a parent. About tenderness and softness and kindness and peace. Above all, peace. It is in those moments of deepest sorrow and loneliness that I have felt the love of God stronger and more acutely than at any other times in my life. There have been times where I have been so engulfed with peace and love while still being in the depths of sorrow. God has taken me to the lowest of points to show me the greatest of joys.
I don't understand why everything happens in this world, and I don't pretend to. But I know that in some way we experience things such as this so that we can share the experiences with others. However painful it may be. So that we can come together and share experiences and griefs and sorrows and unload some of that burden. We have to allow others to share the load.
So I guess this is my way of saying thank you for sharing the load.