First-withouts – the ongoing anguish of grief
Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal.
From a headstone in Ireland
Yesterday would have been my adoptive father, my Rob father’s 93rd birthday. This is what I call a “first-without” and it is caustic enough to strip away the top layer of my heart. This is the ongoing agony of grief, particularly that first year. First without him on his birthday. First without him on mine. First without him on Memorial Day, when I always called him to thank him for his service. There will be more of them. Some will make more sense than others, but even those that make sense only to me will hurt. First Thanksgiving. First Christmas because even though he was an atheist of Jewish descent, he loved Christmas.
And now that I know who he was, I will grieve that I cannot share it with my Oliver father, either. (September 22 would have been his 81st.) Despite Oliver’s death being so long ago, to me, it’s a first without for him, too.
When my new granddaughter is born — they will not be there to tell.
When I retire — I will not be calling them to share my plans.
When I just want to hear their voices — those voices are silent. They are gone forever.
WhenI have the impulse to call and say “I love you,” there are no ears to hear.
Those hugs are gone and they aren’t coming back.
I hate first-withouts. I really do. The agony wells. The tears spill. I am choked with it until I cannot breathe. I am grieving two fathers now and that pain just doesn’t end.
It doesn’t help that grief is cumulative. It’s not just this one death — or two, in this case. It brings up the grief of every other major loss I’ve suffered — both human and animal (yes, they count). My adoptive brother, Steve. My unborn son, Sib. My mother. Jean Turnbow, who was my reluctant interim mother when I came to Washington State as a married teenager and whom I loved dearly despite seeing her rarely. The list goes on, as it does for all of us.
It also doesn’t matter that grief is a natural part of the human condition. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. Either you die first and break everybody’s heart or they die first and break yours. It’s an either or and the only way to avoid it is to be incapable of love, which makes a person a monster and must be avoided. There are worse things than anguish, as it turns out.
I’m also not entirely unhappy for my Rob father. He was miserable — he had pulmonary fibrosis and he was suffocating slowly. Keeping him in that body would hardly have been a kindness. He was ready to leave it — what he wasn’t ready for was to be old and ailing. My Rob father had an ageless spirit, a burning curiosity and sense of adventure. If ever there was a man who would have made good use of a 500 year lifespan, it would have been him. I’m also grieving for endings, for the brief span of our firefly lives. For my Oliver fathe,r who died at 49 and never got to be the gorgeous grand old man his father (who outlived him by no more than a year) appears to have been in the sweet, smiling picture I have of him.
If you have had such devastating losses (and yes, I include creatures), then you know what I mean. Be sure to seek comfort on those first-without days. You’ll need it. If you haven’t, learn the processes of grief so they won’t come as quite as much of a shock as they will otherwise. It will still be a shock. It will still be agonizing. But if, rather than evade the topic as so many of us do, you examine it and contemplate it before tucking it away for that stormy, agonizing day, you will be in some ways braced and yes, it will help.
For now, I honor my process and that includes allowing myself to feel this pain of first-without. Happy Birthday, my beloved Rob father! You and my Oliver father should have had many, many more.