And now I grieve for them all
Grief can be the garden of compassion. If you keep your heart open through everything, your pain can become your greatest ally in your life’s search for love and wisdom.
I thought I knew everything about grief. Foolish me.
I thought I knew so much because I had suffered losses that hit me like a sledgehammer blow to the chest.
My brother to AIDS at 35.
My unborn son two months later at 15 weeks gestation.
My mother to melanoma in her brain at 73.
My dear friend to suicide three weeks later.
My son-in-law, to coronary occlusion at age 36.
My near-as-nephew at 22 from a heart attack.
Honestly, my father, who died November 19 after two years of absolute misery was the only one who was ready to go. I’m grieving hard for him, even though I’m also relieved for him. He’s not suffering anymore. My darling stepmother took exquisite care of him through his illness; he died curled up facing her after murmuring “sleep.” She woke when the sound of the air compressor that pushed oxygen into his lungs when silent when he did. It was a gentle passing – a good death, as they go.
There are losses bigger than mine, but not too many. I’ve had expected losses and unexpected ones. Premature losses and timely ones. So what’s unexpected here?
What I didn’t know – what has taken me by surprise – is that when I grieve for my father, I find I am grieving for everyone else, too.
I am an easy weeper, but this time, I find myself folded in half, sobbing hard but utterly dry-eyed. I am actually beyond tears. I have long numb times that I know to value and take advantage of, but when the pain comes, it slices me in two. It eviscerates me. The scope of loss – I am now the last one standing of my original family – is more than my heart can contain.
My brother, who would be hitting his glorious stride at 56 early next year.
My son who would be a grown man now, tall, funny and beautiful – I’m absolutely sure of it.
My mother, who would have loved my granddaughter with her entire being.
My dear friend who didn’t see her grandchildren grow up.
My daughter’s darling husband, who had such dreams and was happy – truly happy – for the first time in his life.
My near-as-nephew, who was a wonderful young man, strong and tall and beautiful with an unsuspected fragility that took him.
And now, my father.
I am so grateful for my stepmother. I am so grateful I can call, that she’s letting me love her and be supportive – and that the phone number I have called for my entire adult life is still in existence. That universe isn’t entirely empty when I reach mentally, searching for family.
But soon, it will be. The house will get sorted. She will move on because it’s healthy to do so. The house will not be my family home. The phone number will “no longer be in service.”
And I will be well and truly orphaned – because I am well and truly orphaned.
Mind you, I am rich in family and friends. In fact, as with every one of these losses, I am reminded even more sharply of the exquisite beauty of the love I still have. Of my daughter and granddaughter. My husband. The (now-well-grown) children he brought with him. My Spier cousins discovered in the past few years. The dog currently sleeping blissfully in my sports bra and the others curled snug in their soft beds. The kitties awaiting my finally going the feck to bed, mama. The birds whistling along with the music I’m playing as I write. My darling friends – those I know in person and those equally precious I’ve only met virtually.
Loss makes me ever more grateful for what I still have and it reminds me that it’s tenuous, precious, temporary and that I must always mindfully appreciate it and express that appreciation lavishly to those who make my life yet so rich.
But still, I had no idea that losing my father would be like losing every one of my angels all over again. Fresh as a razor cut. Fresh as that sledgehammer to the heart. Fresh as anguish, wails and floods of tears. Fresh as silence and a body shaking because the pain is more than it can bear.
I know the course of this – we all do or will. Either we die first and break everybody’s hearts, or they do and break ours. Eventally, the good memories will overtake the pain and while I will grieve for my father –and all of them, forever – I will be joyful. I will laugh. I will savor life – I already am, because grief, after all, is a skill, and one gets better at it with practice.
And because my very best tribute to all my lost loves is to spread love and joy abundantly.