Grief. There’s an odd duck, right? It’s like that friend you had in school you weren’t quite sure why you were friends, but he was always around, so you had to put up with him. And he was so unpredictable. Today you might get along okay, but then tomorrow…..who knows?
Well, thank you, Agent Obvious, for scoping out and sharing that in-depth insight. Yes, I know, it is obvious. You’d think none of this would surprise me since I worked with Hospice for over two years, and I learned so much from the precious families I was lucky enough to work with.
And yet, yes, I have been surprised.
Like when I bought this last week at the GW Boutique–
I bought my Mama a shirt. Is that crazy? It’s even her favorite brand. The thing is, when I was buying it, I thought I was getting it for me. A navy linen shirt for wearing over a sleeveless top or something like that. It was after I washed it and was putting it away that it hit me. If Mama were here, I would have delighted in surprising her with it. She would have loved it. The three-quarter length sleeves were her favorites. I expect she would have worn it with a white top and khaki slacks to the two services and the Sunday School Class she attended at her church each Sunday. And then she would have called to tell me that she’d worn it and how much she’d enjoyed it. She was like that. She loved to tell you when she enjoyed something you’d given her. Don’t get me wrong–if she didn’t care for it, I knew that too. But over the years, especially in the past four since Daddy got so sick, I’ve gotten better at shopping for her. And now less so for myself, I guess. I look at this shirt and wonder if I’ll ever wear it. And yet, I don’t think I can get give it away just yet.
And then yesterday at our favorite Used Bookstore, I picked up this book.
I did stop short of buying it after it hit me that I was looking at it with Daddy in mind. He was an eclectic reader; he liked different sorts of books, and this one for sure sounded like an interesting read. I put it back gingerly, almost patting it in place. Maybe one day I will read it, but without Daddy to talk about it with, I just don’t know.
I’ve been surprised on this journey of loss and grief on more than one occasion. Like my first time at the grocery store after Daddy died. I wandered through somewhat aimlessly and then, going down the sugar aisle, saw some candy that I knew he would love. I reached for it and then I remembered. Or my first time in Target after Mama passed. I had been on a mission to find her a new pair of khaki slacks for quite a while. As I headed back to pick up what I had come for, I found myself detouring to look for the pants. And again, I remembered. Surprised. I don’t know why our hearts and brains work the way they do, but I find it fascinating that they both can be taken by surprise regarding something I KNOW.
But I’ve also been surprised in good ways. Surprised by how close I feel to them at times. Like they are right there in the moment. Usually it’s when I’m in my car by myself, which is not often. Once I found myself replying to what I knew Mama had/would have said in that moment. (That was interesting for anyone around, I’m sure–it was quite an animated conversation, as I recall.) I also feel close to Daddy when I’m planting or with one of the animals or just outside at all. I feel close to Mama at her kitchen table. Or when I’m reading. Sometimes *whispering* it feels like they aren’t even gone at all.
I’ve been surprised by laughter. When my Daddy first went in the hospital I told my brother that I would not be able to breathe if anything happened to Daddy. Some days it’s hard to take one breath after another, but then others, the laughter comes easily. And hard. And often. And I know he would like that.
I’ve been surprised that I can function. That I can cook the meals and wash the clothes. TCB’ing, Mama called it, short for taking care of business. It is when I actually finish doing something, like getting all the clothes washed and put away (before the ones they’re wearing are ready for washing), that I think YES! and know she would be cheering alongside me. When I actually clean the floors and mop, and I would have called her to hear her say, “Well don’t you feel sanctimonious!”, that’s when I smile. I know she’s still cheering me on. I can feel it.
Last summer one of my aunts asked me how I was doing. I was going out to the cemetery once or twice a week to water the tea olive we’d planted on Daddy’s birthday the previous March. I told her that when I went out there by myself I felt like laying down next to Daddy’s headstone and just staying put. She replied, almost immediately:
P.S. If you want to lie down beside your daddy’s headstone, go for it. Just be careful of the fire ants.
I love her and her wisdom, this aunt of mine, who has had more to mourn than most. She made me laugh. On my very next trip to the quiet little country church cemetery, as I was standing there talking to Daddy and crying and pouring the eight gallons of water from Blackberry Flats over the little tree, I felt a bite. On my toe. Great. I stopped crying long enough to check for more ants. Seeing none, I went back to my emotional breakdown, talking and crying and pouring, letting out all of the storm raging within. Then *ouch* a second bite.
How could I not?
I am reminded of Mama’s favorite verses from the Good Book.
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up
Ecclesiastes 3:1-3 (RSV)
I guess what my aunt and those ants (the irony here is not lost on me) were trying to tell me is there is a time to grieve and break down, and a time to build yourself up, move through it, and take care of business.
Now I just have to work on figuring out which is when. Preferably without any help from those ants.