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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The one where I ramble on about death

Death changed my family.

It changes every family it touches. I remember reading Catherine's blog when her dad died. And I remember when one of my favorite Tweeters died suddenly from the H1N1 virus, leaving four young kids and a very young widow. I've followed the changes of Joanna's family online. I remember too well that day in December 1998, when the grandfather I adored died unexpectedly in the same way his own son, my dad, would die in August 2012. We were sad because we just loved him so much (we really did), but the sadness wasn't the only thing that happened. The family dynamic shifted. The vivacious, generous, and sometimes cranky man who had been at the center of the family was gone. No more listening to Cincinnati Reds games on the radio in the basement, no more extravagant dinners out, no more taking twice as long to hand-wash dishes so he would keep telling stories. No more thick-sliced bologna from the deli, the kind with the red wrapper you peeled off.

I don't know if everyone thinks their parents will live forever, but I did. I'm a smart woman, really, but I just assumed that God would always be sure my parents, specifically my dad, would be around for me. My parents were never sickly until my father had his heart attack in 2008. And within a year of that he was well again, active and healthy. We had rarely seen eye to eye but my dad was always my cheerleader, encourager, and comic relief. He was the center of our family dinners. He was funny and kind and treated people with respect. Dad defended my bleeding-heart-liberal self against the adamant Reaganite singer from his band when I was in high school. We shared a deep, complicated faith that I came to as a child and he came into as an adult. 

At first, I thought the only obvious change would be that Dad wouldn't be around any more. I wept for my mother, who had lost the love of her life while they slept side by side. I wept for my children, my nieces, and my nephew, who were losing the only granddad that could rival my beloved Papaw. I'm not sure I cried for myself much at first. I was heartbroken that my dad and my spouse wouldn't have a chance to get to know one another, because I think it would have been a precious friendship. I was sad for all the people who knew my dad through work and church, because they looked forward to seeing him. He lit up a room.

Then a dear friend told me I would be grieving soon for the loss of my parents. I acknowledged this but wasn't really sure what it meant. (In fact, a lot of things people told me I would feel, I put aside as a list in my head but didn't really get it yet.) Now I see it. My mom is always sad. In fact, her mother, who had been sick for months, died a couple of weeks ago. Within about six weeks of my dad's death, in fact. Talk about unfair! But I don't have parents any more. I have a mom. Even my kids, whose parents divorced, have parents. In fact, they have three parents now. But I don't. I have a mom. I love her. But she's angry and bitter, and it shows. She's sad and lonely, even with lots of friends and support. Her temper is short and she asks mean and pointed questions. I call to check on her, and I text her, and I wish it were easier to spend time with her. But it's not.

This year, we're having Thanksgiving at my brother and sister-in-law's house. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and while I'm kind of dreading having to deal with the sadness this year, and not looking forward to a day of my mother weeping, I'm going to keep the day as positive as possible. My kids will be with their dad on Thanksgiving this year, so my spouse and I are going to drive down and visit a while and then just come back when things get too uncomfortable. 

I am still not over this, and it's hard for me to help anyone else get over it.

Is that selfish? Is avoiding family until I can get "more" over it a bad thing? I know there's not a "right" way to do it, but maybe there's a "wrong" way. I don't want to alienate people, but I also need time and space. My dad died when I had been married only a few months. We are still trying to get our own family dynamic going over here. I find it vastly unfair that I have to deal with both at once.

What do you think? How did you get over an unexpected death? Or did you just not get over it? Sometimes at work it hits me that my dad is dead, and I realize it's been more than two months and I'm still thinking that. I still have days when I want to call to ask him something or tell him something, then I remember I can't. 


  1. I went through this when my grandmother and uncle died within a year of each other in 2003-2004. Granted, it's NOT the same as the loss of a parent, but I saw my mom and my cousin (who is more like the little sister I never had) lose parents. It is hard. Everyone grieves in their own way. My uncle's death was HARD for me, man. He was only 52 -- three weeks between when he was diagnosed with cancer and when he died. I still have some guilt over not ever going to see him when he was sick -- I never thought he'd die. You're a good person, and the fact that you even worry about whether you're "grieving right" shows that you care about other people.

  2. With the death of my dad this summer, my family's dynamics have definitely changed. My brother feels great anger towards our mom for numerous reasons, and due to some events which occurred shortly after our dad died, he has essentially cut off contact with her. For me to make sure he stays in contact with me, I have to be very, very careful about what I say to him regarding mom. I also have to be careful about what I say to our mom about him. It sometimes feels a bit like a tightrope.

    The worst part of it is that now my main supporter - my unconditional supporter - unconditional listener - my dad - is gone. I miss him everyday. Some days I am busy enough with life that it is more of a fleeting thought, but other days something or other will trigger memories, and I'll be lost in them for a good while.

    I miss my dad a lot, but I also miss what my family once used to be.

  3. Laura, I remember when your dad died. I am so sorry you're going through this but at the same time, I'm glad I'm not alone. I have a lot of resentment I didn't know was there, and it's just stewing. The other day I was folding men's long-sleeved flannel shirts at work and started o break down because they reminded me of my dad. I can go days without crying but then it comes in a big wave. I miss my family, too.