Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Grief’s Half Life

My father has been dead three weeks and three days and I have not yet had a chance to fully mourn him.  All has conspired against me: I’ve had a constant housefull of people, my mother-in-law landed in the hospital, my husband flew up to Rochester to attend his friend’s mother’s funeral, and I could go on. There was all the intensive planning of, and then producing Dad’s memorial, pretty much completely on my own.  And then the very day after that, Spring Break: ten glorious straight days with my children.  And then there's being there as much as I can to support my train wreck of a mother, who needs so much more than I can ever give. 

My mother needs a husband, a partner, all that I can not be.  Her sadness is bottomless, and there is nothing I can say, but sit there and hold her hand, rest her head on my shoulder and murmur “I know” while she softly cries and wails her continual lament “he’s gone, he’s not there”.  But, of course, I don’t really know, for I still have my husband, my children here beside me, binding me to the world (though I am ghosting through my days right now.) She has lost it all in one fell swoop. They had one of those close marriages, a couple-y couple, the seam between their bodies zipped up full, partners in work and home for fifty-one years.  She was his best friend and partner, then his caretaker, and now who is she?  My mother has to forge a new identity at 87, and widow is not an easy one.  We are trying to pry her from his side, bring her back to life.  He is now ashes and I need to lift her ashen face back to the sun, but who am I to do that, fatherless and wrung out from his hellish drawn out demise?

So I am walking around half here and half…where? Not sure where the there is, but it’s certainly not here, in my skull, my skin. I am scooped hollow, lightly tethered.  I am not nearly present enough for my children, and for that I am sorry.  I just don’t have it in me, finding spring vacation week hellish, with my kids still young enough to want all mommy all the time. When they are teenagers, all eye-rolls and hugely embarrassed by maternal affection, I will chastise myself for taking this for granted, for not wringing every drop of pleasure out of their still greedy and physical love.

A friend says she thinks I’m processing my grief well: my writing, pouring over photo albums, showing Dad’s work to anyone I can buttonhole for five minutes is all mourning in a healthy way, but that’s only half right.  I know there is still a solid core that has yet to release; the fissionable nucleus, holding on, holding out, waiting for me to have the luxury of time without the pull of a child’s hand or my mother’s sorrow to find my own.

The night my father died, a tremendous storm – “worst in 30 years” – descended upon New York where it howled for three days straight, much like my mother, grieving mightily. A huge shaggy swirling near monsoon, winds downed trees, tore off roofs, and de-powered a multitude. Rivers swelled and breached, and somehow this seemed fitting: the right weather to accompany the passing of an outsized man.  “God is crying, too” said my atheist/agnostic, nearly animist mother. And that sounded about right.  Sunshine and blue-skied beauty would have been unbearable while we were being drenched in sadness. 

And again, the day of his memorial service: yet another storm, begun in drizzly mist then whipping up into a full Nor’easter umbrella killer, a days long flooding fury.  This was as it should be, the incongruity of death and sunny days avoided, watching the world sob along with us was strangely satisfying, I would have scowled again at sunshine.

And now spring has come on full in a violent burst, the trees exploding: magnolias, cherries, apples all a-blossom. The forsythias seemed to jump up yellow, on to spring green overnight, and I am dazed and unprepared for it all, my heart still wintry and bare.  But the children are out and prancing and I cannot stay home with shades drawn, because life, it goes on; and with each step forward, I draw away from my father, from the winter of his slowly dying bit by bit.  And so we thaw together, the earth and I, and I hold my children tight and kiss their shaggy sweet smelling heads and smile as they clamber all over me, knowing this too shall end.

And so I count the days until spring break is over and I can have a moment to myself, to mourn, to sleep, to drink my cup of tea while it is still hot, and perhaps to miss my children as they pass their days at school and creep ever so slowly away from my bosom.


  1. I came here from spirit of the river. I too am stuck in a sandwich and often find it difficult. Lovely writing.

  2. I have been where you are now with the parents. You have all my good thoughts coming your way. It is so hard to see ones parents turn into children before our eyes. I remember my once strong proud father reduced to wearing diapers and so thin. A mere shadow of himself. It is true, there comes a point where it is harder for those left behind remembering than for those that are going.
    Thanks for your visit to my blog. Im glad also to have 'met' you. Im now your 10th follower.


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