It has been a year and four months since my father passed away. I am learning the long road of grief. Just over a year is not the long road, but it is long enough to see the beginning of the long road. It is long enough to move through the initial shock and all the firsts.
One thing I am finding about the long road of grief is that there are benchmarks that come by once per year whereby a measurement can be made.
For example, last week at family camp was a very healing week for me. It was good to compare it to last year at camp. I remember last year at camp how strained all of my conversations were with people. I recalled how lacking in humor the whole week was for me. I remember last year's weight of seeing all of those people for the first time since my father died.
This year at camp, nothing was a first. It was lighter and funnier and normaler. I got a chance to prove to myself that I can be in that situation and remember who I am, to some extent. I also got a chance to reflect back and see how far I have come, and it is encouraging. However, it also gave me a chance to realize that there is so much more ground to cover. There are places, little pockets, in my life where I am still not strong. My heart limps sometimes and in certain situations. There are some situations I am just not ready for. Will I ever be ready for them? Time will tell the truth about those.
I have come to believe that losing a parent or someone super close is like a brain injury in which you lose some memory and lose the use of parts of who you are. Recovery comes over long stretches of time, though sometimes in spurts. There is no guarantee that all former memories and abilities will be regained. Life may have taken a permanently new direction without your permission and there is no recourse, no way to resolve it, no getting back on track. There is a new track. The loss is permanent and the hope is that other parts of the brain, of life, can in some way compensate for the missing pieces. There is hope for a mosiac of helps from all over to, in some artistic or even cartoonish way, reconstitue what is lost.
Oh sure, you hear stories all the time of people making it, but you also hear the stories of the people who never were the same again - in the worst of ways. In stronger times it is easy to believe that you are the kind of person who makes it. However, when days come along that the fact that there is just one more day to plow through throws you into fright, it is easy to believe there is no hope. Sometimes the the swing between hope and hopeless is taxing - violent.
There are days when the fact that there is in some way an autopilot function in this human life is cause for the highest gratitude because it is what got you off the pillow and what brought you back to it once again. There are days when the social scripts for polite conversation were essential, and it was good that they were memorized because there was no cognitive reserve for the creation of sense-making words. Laughs were laughed not in repsonse to humor, but to cues for laughter. There are zombie days in grief.
There is another piece to grief that I have learned. It takes more energy to arrive at the same amount of action than it did before. I might be getting older, but I don't think that accounts for all of this experience. Or maybe grief ages people more quickly. Whatever the case, if I do not work harder to get into the day than I did before, then the day might just eat me up and slowly digest me. It's like having 25 extra emotional pounds to carry. I am not sure if I'll ever get to let those pounds go, but I am sure that with effort, I can get better at carrying them.
It might be that those pounds become part of who I am.
Well, it's late and I need to get to bed.