The Grief Before The Grieving.

by JessicaB

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I’ve rarely felt the sting of death. As a tween my step-grandfather died and I cried ugly tears next to my step-cousin. But since then I’ve been relatively unscathed.

 

I’ve never been one to fear death, to worry much over it at all. In hindsight I realize this a symptom of youth, of independence.  But life has a way of wounding you, softening you. Making you a curious combination of both callous and vulnerable.

 

I am reading Anne Lamott when it attacks me this time, the fear, the grief, the gut-stopping reality that my father will die.  That his thick southern drawl will not always be a phone call away.

 

I struggle to halt the pain in my heart, the tears already sliding down my face.

 

One thing I know and fear in my life:

when my father dies it will break me.

 

For a time, at least. And occasionally I am briefly and prematurely consumed with this future.

 

My father is the one thing in my life that is wholly mine. My husband’s family surrounds me in a plethora of love, they are truly more than a girl from a broken home could ever hope for. And though they love me like their own, there is still a divide that whispers in my heart . . . they don’t really belong to you. They are borrowed family.

 

But my father is mine.

 

Other people love him, yes. He has brothers and nieces and even another daughter.

 

Other people love me, as well. I have brothers and cousins, and aunts who care for me dearly.

 

But my father – he is the rock. Just one thin layer above the Creator in my foundation.

 

And I worry about the crack that will be left when that layer is removed.

 

I am 29 years old and every year he seems to grow weaker. He injures easily, is prone to virus and flu, lives with chronic pain. And, perhaps most scarily – he’s uninsured. A victim of the blue-collar predicament.

 

I know, he knows, we all know, that when the cancer finally comes for him, if it hasn’t already, it will be nearly over by the time it is named.

 

So when he’s laid up on the couch for a week for mysterious reasons, or has fainting spells, or loses his appetite, we all refuse to make eye contact with the inevitable in the room.

 

My father is unlikely to grow to be an old man.

 

This reality waits for me.

 

And no amount of Christian platitude can take away it’s sting.

 

 

27 Responses to “The Grief Before The Grieving.”

  1. Lorie January 21, 2013 at 4:22 am #

    Jessica, I’m sorry to hear about your dad’s poor health. Although my father is very healthy in the physical sense, in the year prior to my family moving overseas, he admitted that he was struggling with dementia. My heart aches with the knowledge that when I see him again, the man I used to know could possibly be replaced by someone altogether different. Whew…cry break. I sat down with him before I left to share my heart. I told him, that I love him, and that I’m already grieving the day when he won’t know who I am. However, my hope is that when that day comes Jesus will still be very close to him and very familiar. He seemed pretty confident that he would, which made me feel better.
    I pray you get to hear your dad’s southern drawl a gazilion more times before you say goodbye.

    • JessicaB January 21, 2013 at 10:08 am #

      I recently read The Summer of The Great Grandmother by Madeleine L’engle and she talks about losing her mother that way. Heartbreaking.

  2. Kate Hall January 21, 2013 at 6:45 am #

    I have these same fears too. I emailed my dad this morning because I had neglected to three weeks ago when he first sent his email. I had been “too busy” to write back. I have a fear of the pain that I will feel over the loss and that I didn’t do more or appreciate him more while he was here. Really, I do that with all my immediate family. I’m trying to stop wasting my life on the crap that doesn’t matter and focus more on relationships that do. Thanks for your transparency Jessica. Always good to know we’re not alone in our pain/fears.

    • JessicaB January 21, 2013 at 10:10 am #

      I should call my dad every week, but I often times let it slip and before I know it, it’s been 3 weeks or more. #badjessica

  3. Tracy January 21, 2013 at 8:44 am #

    Oh Jessica, I get it. I lost my dad at 28 and my mom at 35. Platitudes never help. Smart of you to face it, and then enjoy EVERY minute you get with him. Ask him for more stories. Write them down. Take some pictures together and hang them on the wall. I grieved and grieved and grieved. But I found strength, and found people to step into their shoes a little (not my in-laws oddly enough), so I get it. Live today, because there is plenty of time to grieve later…you’ll have no choice.

    • JessicaB January 21, 2013 at 10:11 am #

      It’s only been this last half a year since we moved away again that it’s really hit me hard a couple of times. It’s the distance that makes it magnified.

  4. Jennifer January 21, 2013 at 8:45 am #

    I well remember these feelings about my grandmother. I came from a broken family as well. I was raised by my grandparents and father until my father remarried and I was blessed to have my momma. When they divorced my grandmother again picked me up. She was the one constant in my life. I remember watching her age and thinking, “when she dies I’m going to break.” I didn’t. i keep taking life one step at a time and I’m good as long as I keep stepping. If I stop too long like I have almost done now my gut clenches, the tears come and I feel the empty place that the death of my grandmother has left in my heart and life. But, I didn’t break. I just keep hanging on to the memory of the love no one else in my life has ever had for me and I keep going.

    • JessicaB January 21, 2013 at 10:13 am #

      I guess, “breaking” is relative, huh? The grieving process is sort of a form of brokeness, I guess.

  5. Gary Ware January 21, 2013 at 9:00 am #

    Delicate and Profound.
    Thank you.

  6. Bethany January 21, 2013 at 9:59 am #

    Beautiful, aching words.

  7. HopefulLeigh January 21, 2013 at 1:00 pm #

    Jessica, I admit I don’t know what it is like to have grieved so little at this stage in the game. I’m part in awe you’ve faced so little loss to date. I grew up going to funerals and wakes. Grief and loss were a part of my family’s life. We mourned together then and we mourn together now. And let me say this, as someone who has lost and as someone who provided bereavement counseling, it doesn’t get easier but we do get through it. Even the loss that I thought would break me? I got through it. Something in us rises to the occasion, even when we think we have nothing left to give. That loss was messy and I retreated and withdrew but I got through each day and now I can talk about it and see how I’ve grown and changed as a result. Cherish this time with your dad. When fear seeps in over how much time you have left with him, choose joy. Let yourself be sad now and take good care of yourself in the process. I wish I had the magic words for you but all I can do is offer up the wisdom of someone who mourns.

    • JessicaB January 21, 2013 at 2:22 pm #

      Yes, I’ve been oddly protected from death, especially considering our military service. Between having no real experience with grief first hand, and each year growing into maturity and strengthening my appreciation and love for family and friends – it makes me nervous for that inevitable day when someone who is a part of me will be gone.

  8. Christie January 21, 2013 at 2:15 pm #

    Oh, how hard it is to live knowing that you will lose your father to a cruel illness. My father died over two years ago, shortly after I got married and moved across the country. I was, indeed, broken. But, to be honest, I’d been broken for quite some time, because this is the nature of terminal illness (as opposed to accident): whether you mean to or not, you start grieving in little ways from the very beginning.

    This is all hard, and there aren’t too many good words to say in circumstances like these. But know this: that your grief, and your brokenness, they’re valid. However you need to grieve–ugly tears or not talking or always talking or throwing things–is okay. And any feelings you have about just wanting it to be over? Those are also okay. You are not a bad person.

    You’ve got my email if you want a subjective insider to talk with. :)

    • JessicaB January 21, 2013 at 2:26 pm #

      I think moving over 3000 miles away (again) after having spent 3 years in my hometown has just made me much more aware of how much I miss him and I worry that something might happen while I’m so far away.

  9. Nancy Franson January 21, 2013 at 6:25 pm #

    I lost my dad when he was sixty-four years old. His father had died young, and very suddenly of a heart attack. I always assumed I would one day get a phone call telling my my dad had gone as suddenly. Instead, he died of a brain tumor, and my family watched as it slowly stole life from him over a period of seven months. I realized then that there is no good way to lose your father. Death remains an enemy this side of eternity.

  10. Diana Trautwein January 21, 2013 at 8:08 pm #

    Nancy is right. There is no good way to lose someone you love. There will always be a hole. But it does not have to be a hole that devours you – part of your anxiety is the truth that you’ve never lost someone close to you before. I was also in that position – and death itself terrified me. Thinking about it happening to someone close was nearly paralyzing. As I moved into seminary and pastoral internships, I was forced to face the hard truth that everybody dies. And we can choose how we deal with it – the one that is dying can choose and those who are watching can choose. So I pray now for my own God-encouraged will to choose well on either side of that awful, inevitable equation. Praying the same for you, Jessica.

  11. Natalie January 21, 2013 at 8:58 pm #

    Jessica,
    Thank you for sharing your fear so honestly. I can relate to your feelings. I know we all live on borrowed time, but it doesn’t make the sting of death any less painful.

    May your dad be honored by your love.

  12. Dan McM January 21, 2013 at 11:35 pm #

    I can relate, Jessica. The separation now, the frustration with not getting to spend enough time… the tendency to feel guilty over moving away, even though you know it was the right thing to do. I went through it when we moved our family 1000 miles away from home. My mom had passed a few years earlier (there was no way we would move last local grandkids away from mom), and my dad said we needed to do what was right choice for us when we moved. Unfortunately, he had a mild stroke when we were in process of moving, so he never traveled to visit us and we only saw him at holidays until he passed about 5 years later. So yeah, I totally get where you’re coming from.

    My perspective is also changing the older I get. I’m probably about your dad’s age, and though I’m in good health, where I used to worry about losing those I love, now I worry about something happening to me prematurely, leaving my family behind to deal with life without me.

    The one thing I’ve learned/am still learning is that worrying and feeling guilty doesn’t help. Take advantage of the time while you’ve got it, and remember that death is our common denominator — everyone we’ve ever known will die someday, as will we. And that’s ok, its part of life. And its ok to grieve, but don’t let that keep you from living.

  13. Christie January 22, 2013 at 11:09 am #

    I can relate. My Dad has a very slow moving cancer, and a tendency to hide how bad things are. I try not to borrow trouble, but I always wonder if this visit is the last healthy one… if he’ll even let me know when it gets really bad… if I’ll be able to go and help and what about my kids and how will we afford it… and then I have to focus on Today, because death and grief is too big of a fight for little me.

    Also, thank God for Canadian healthcare!

  14. Traci January 25, 2013 at 3:37 am #

    I know this isn’t any consolation for you but I have to admit that it comforts me to know that I’m not the only person who experiences waves of consuming fear over the thought of losing a loved one. (Also my father) I’ve often wondered if I’m just the sort of person who is weak to certain things, or if I just care too much or if I just have less faith than I ought to have.

    I tell myself that none of the above is true. God made me to love, rejoice and even to mourn. I know He’s real and with me in it because when I cry out his name from between sobs the waves of panic calm themselves.

  15. Krista January 29, 2013 at 5:10 pm #

    I went through a period of time where I had very little contact with death and I freely admit, it was nice. Now, we’ve lost all but one of our mutual 5 grandparents in the last 2 years plus a couple of dear friends who are only our parents’ age.
    What I understand you in most though is the father. My dad was diagnosed with Parkinson’s while I was pregnant with my first. He will be 6 this year which means it’s been almost 7 years now. In the beginning it was hard hard because it was fear of the unknown. Now it’s a reality we live with (I see him weekly) and I almost don’t see the bigger picture until something triggers it.
    Something like yesterday… spending all day sorting pictures for my parents and seeing pictures of him smiling – really smiling – only 3 years ago. (Parkinson’s creates a mask by lessening muscle control so you don’t really do much with your face or your body anymore)
    Like trying to teach him a new way of getting pictures on to the computer that 10 years ago he would have picked up with me just telling him. Now he doesn’t understand it even when I let him do it.
    The hardest thing, when I think about it too hard, is realizing that my children, and even my husband to some extent, will never know the real Dad that he was. The energetic, outdoors loving, teasing, smiling man that is my father.
    I know that everyone grows old and I don’t know his parents like he did either, but it’s a sudden change rather than a decades long aging process.
    It’s the things like not being able to turn to him with a question anymore because he gets easily confused.
    I’m sorry, I think I’m rambling now. But it’s not easy, if we’ve had a good father they may be the hardest to lose. The anticipation is awful.

  16. Dionne February 1, 2013 at 7:10 am #

    Platitudes are cruel and insensitive. When I lost four people (one being my mother) in 2006 I heard an ear full of them, but God has used the pain of just those insensitive or unhelpful remarks by teaching me to slowly give grace and forgiveness and now I gently, but honestly teach people what to say or not say instead. I can only imagine how you are feeling. I don’t know if your father’s passing will break you, but I really get that feeling that you expressed and I can hear the pain in your voice and the voice of how much you love your father. May you both be able to soak in every moment. Praying for you both. Hugs to you.

  17. Amanda February 2, 2013 at 12:50 pm #

    I understand. I wish I could offer something more than understanding, but at the moment, I can’t. I lost my dad 3 months ago. He was only 49.
    My dad had been in poor health for most of my life. I remember there were days walking home from school, wondering if he would be alive when I got there.
    As I grew older (I’m 26), he somehow managed to hang on. He stayed around long enough to meet and get to know all three of his grandchildren, and for that I’m thankful.
    But it still didn’t soften the blow when he died from complications of a simple colon infection. Nor did the fact that I expected for years make it any easier. He was my rock, and right now I’m still drowning in grief.
    So while I wish I could offer some measure of comfort, my hope is that understanding will suffice for now.

  18. Bethany February 4, 2013 at 8:43 am #

    Thanks for this. My dad is dying a slow death from Parkinsons, and after 10 years we’re just now to the point where I look 5 years into the future and I don’t see him. I feel like I got on a roller coaster that started slowly inching forward and is picking up speed so fast that I can almost see the end.

    It’s hard to be in the spot where you haven’t lost your dad but there’s still pain and grief and the fear of what will happen on the day his lungs stop filling with air. What does one do with all of that TODAY? I feel ya.

  19. Lisa Australia February 25, 2013 at 4:57 am #

    Dear all,
    Grief consumes me, yet I move in a direction, maybe forward yet it often seems in no direction all. My mum was diagnosed with thyroid cancer 2008. My dad was diagnosed few months later withe brain cancer 2008. Mum was treated with great results. Dad wasn’t so lucky. August 15, my dads birthday, his dad passes away and my dad embarks on brain surgery for a second time. Two weeks later i marry my second husband. Two weeks later he has a heart attack. This was 2010. He survived. Come 2011my grandma dies on February 2011. Dad passes just six weeks later. Grieving never leaves me. By July 2011 my brother is diagnosed with lung cancer. Sadly he passed away 15.2.13. My heart is broken. My only sibling. Grieve is consuming me. I’ve had enough. I am broken. My heart is cracked beyond repair. Grief is all consuming. Staying vibrant for my kids is becoming near impossible.

  20. Adrian August 1, 2013 at 2:45 pm #

    I am slightly comforted by all of your posts. Finally people understand what I am going through and others are going through. I am 28.

    My step-mother is in the ending stages of Pick’s disease, an advanced rare form of Alzheimer’s. She is 62. She can no longer walk or talk and this has rapidly developed in the past 6 months.

    My dad is in the ending stages of emphysema. He has been in the hospital for long periods of time over the past two Christmas’. This past Christmas he was in ICU on life support for 9 days. I thought he would die for sure, and technically he did in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.

    I also have 3 grandparents in poor health. I feel like I am going to lose them all soon. It is hard to carry on with every day life, I work full-time, and go to school full-time. I’m just so overwhelmed. My friends don’t understand what I am going through, and my other family members don’t understand why I have pushed them away ( they’re not supportive).

    I am grieving my dad and step mom’s loss because of their terminal illnesses. People don’t seem to understand that I am grieving because I have lost so much already. My step mom is only a shell of herself. I believe when they do pass I will struggle with this at first, but I think I will be relieved. I think I will finally be able to reach acceptance and move on with my life. I hate being in limbo. I don’t want them to pass away, but this is a very painful emotionally exhausting experience for everyone involved.

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