There is a place that feels so dark no light could ever penetrate it. A place so deep no rope would ever be long enough to pull you out. A place deafening with its silence. A place where you feel as if you could drown in the saltiness of tears.
I was 37 years old when grief touched me. When it took its long fingers and clasped them around my heart and squeezed and squeezed and squeezed.
I was in my twenties when I lost my great-aunt. She had been like a surrogate maternal grandmother to me my entire life. When she passed, there was a hole. She was followed by my paternal grandmother. She had been slowly fading for years and gently passed in her sleep. Then, came my great-uncle. The husband to my great-aunt who had passed a few years earlier. Like her, he had acted as my surrogate maternal grandfather. The world felt a little less bright without his strength and humor. My aunt, my dad’s sister, was the next to pass from this world. The hole was getting bigger.
The day before my dad died, my mom and I sat at the hospital by his side. He barely spoke. I knew he was in pain. But, I knew deep in my bones that the doctors were going to get it figured out. He would walk out of that hospital after a few days, his strength would eventually return and we would have years to make more memories. I truly believed that.
Around 5:30 that evening, I kissed him on the top of his head, told him I loved him and headed home for the day to feed the family. My plan was to come back the next morning.
Just after midnight, I received a text from my mom telling me dad was crashing and to get to the hospital as soon as possible.
Fear. I have never known fear like that. I prayed all the way to the hospital that God would keep him alive.
When I walked into ICU, a male nurse gently touched my arm and said, “I’m so sorry.” I looked off to my left and I saw him. Lifeless.
Grief waltzed in and ripped me into a tiny million pieces. Fragments of myself floated away.
His body was still warm as I set my head down on his arm, stroked his hand and sobbed.
Buzzing in my head were the words, “Gone. Gone. Gone. He’s gone. He’s gone. No. No. Nooooooo.”
I couldn’t ebb the flow of tears even if I had wanted to. A dam I didn’t even know existed had broken open.
Everything sat on the top of my skin. My emotions. Just right there.
I still have his phone number programmed in my phone. Sometimes I accidentally call it. About once a week, I watch the few videos I have of him on my phone. Just to hear his voice. His laughter. For Christmas, my mom gave all the children a quilt made out of his shirts. I take naps underneath it. If I’ve had a bad day, I’ll wrap myself up in it, wait for the tears, and then wipe them away with one of his favorite Razorback shirts.
I hate grief.
It’s changed me. In some ways, it’s become a part of me.
Those pieces of myself that were scattered across the floor of that hospital room are still floating on the wind. Somewhere. Part of working through grief is grabbing a piece as it floats by, trying to figure out how it fits with who and where I am today and putting it in its spot. Like a jigsaw puzzle.
Grief asks the questions: Who am I now? Who am I without him?
But, you know what? In some small far off section of my heart, I’m thankful for grief. It’s given me perspective. What’s really important in this world? It’s given me permission to mourn a great man.
I remember as a toddler sitting on top of one of his feet, wrapping my legs around the back of his leg and him walking around. That was one of my favorite things he ever did. I remember all the times he told me he had a surprise for me only to run up to his side and him hand me an apple core to throw away. He thought that was really funny. I was always “just the right size” to throw away his apple core. I remember him pulling out his dad’s big white Bible to read the Christmas story every year as a child. I remember his advice about driving, “Assume everyone else on the road is trying to kill you.” I remember his rough hands and how hard they worked to provide for his family. I remember the times I disappointed him and how it pained me to know I had. I remember how he never bragged on himself. I remember watching him and my mom and how much he would irk her with this or that. She would grab a kitchen towel and swat at him with it and he would laugh.
I remember how you held your grandbabies. How you were never afraid of a stinky diaper. The songs you would make up to sing to them – sometimes resurrecting the awful ones you sang to us when we were children. I remember how much you loved history. I remember your deep love for all things sweet. I remember that you were a good, good father.
Grief has painted these memories afresh on my mind.
I remember, Dad. I will never forget.