What Grief Looks Like

We’re 17 days into the calendar year, and I’ll be the first to admit: it’s been an awful one so far. I’d give almost anything to go back to the late days of 2017 – even the first few days of 2018. The days when my father was still alive.

This has all been incredibly unexpected, heartbreaking and difficult. I didn’t expect to lose my father, just days before his 60th birthday.

Isn’t it funny how we say that? We say we “lost” someone when they pass away, as if they can be found. As if they just wandered off in the grocery store and they’re three aisles down, looking at the macaroni and cheese when you’re in the bread aisle. Maybe some people would say we use that terminology because these people never truly leave us, that they’re always just around the corner, watching. I don’t know.

When I went to sleep on January 3rd, my life was the same as it has been. But when my cell phone rang in the six o’clock hour of the morning of January 4th, everything changed. I woke up, groggy, with my husband just getting up around the same to get ready for work. One glance at my phone, and it was a number I didn’t recognize, so I figured I’d better answer it.

I’m both incredibly glad and incredibly sad that I did.

I don’t think I’ll ever forget those words from the nurse. As soon as I picked up the phone, I knew something was wrong. Once she said the name of the hospital she was calling from, it clicked that it was connected to my father. And then: “He was found outside his work this morning.”

FoundLost. That terminology again. I remember being vaguely confused for a split second – how could he have been “found” when he wasn’t “lost” in the first place? And then: “And he didn’t make it.”

A wave of emotions crashed over me then as I understood her words. I don’t know how I managed to stay on the phone and listen to what the nurse was saying. All I remember is my husband standing next to me, and my breaking the news to him, mid-phone call. We were both shocked, and I couldn’t help but bawl my eyes out. I’ve never lost someone so close to me.

I’ll never forget having to call my mother and sister and let them know. Having that responsibility, while this news was so fresh and raw to myself, was absolutely horrible. Somehow, I got dressed, and my husband and I drove to the hospital. The next few hours are a blur of tears, anxiety, stress, disbelief and pain.

Or maybe it’s next the few days, rather than hours. At some point, adrenaline took over and my body knew what it should do. Wait for my sister and her family to get into town. Cry, a lot sometimes, and not at all other times. Spend three hours at the funeral home planning everything. Spend days cleaning out his apartment, sorting through what to keep, what to trash and what to donate. (That, in and of itself, was so incredibly difficult. How do you boil someone’s life, and all of their possessions, down into a few days?)

I’ve never been to a funeral home so many times in a week. From the initial three-hour planning session to dropping things off day after day, to the actual wake and service, to picking things up the day after. I’ll be glad to not walk into that funeral home for a while now. No offense to the lovely folks who work there.

The wake and service for my dad were perfect, even as the exhaustion hit me and the adrenaline of the week ran out. I looked around and thought to myself “Dad would love this.” As my nephews found new friends – my dad’s boss’ kids – I thought to myself “I’ve got to send Dad a picture of this.” And then, the realization hit once more. I can’t do that. I’ve had several of these moments over the past week or so, and I know there are more to come.

I don’t know what grief looks like, but I know what my grief looks like right now, in this moment, and what I’m doing with it. I don’t know how I’m going to feel tonight, or a week from now, or this Father’s Day. And in some small way, that’s okay. Because I’m doing the best I can, every day. I’m still here.

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