Wednesday, July 21

Lessons in grief

I'm learning a lot from this awful experience. All of the rituals of loss and grief are beginning to make sense.

First, the phone calls start. That's natural. People want to know if you're ok and what they can do. Nowadays the texts, emails, voicemail messages and Facebook postings also come. For me, they have all been incredibly supportive and helpful.

Flowers come soon after the messages. I never really understood this tradition. I figured it was an attempt to cheer up a grieving person but now I know that it does more than that. It helps your home smell nice and feel inviting for the guests that come. I burst into tears when the first bouquet arrived. I still feel bad for that poor delivery guy. He proudly presented the flowers to me with a cheerful "I have flowers for you!". I choked out a "Thank you" and sobbed as I closed the door. He literally ran away.

Food comes almost almost as quickly as the flowers. I always believed this was for the grieving family so they didn't have to worry about cooking for a while. It certainly does that but it also helps you feed visitors. I'd soy most importantly the food is there to remind you to eat. I am an overweight person and have been for most of my life. I've done reasonable challenging things like get a degree and get in and out of bad relationships. I've gotten out of considerable debt and managed to save up a little nest egg. I've done some tough things but losing weight has been my personal Mt. Everest. I've been making plans to tackle it but this grief now makes me wonder what all the trouble with my weight is about. Now I literally forget to eat. Friends who have been through this have called to remind me to eat. Two days in a row I mentioned to my friend Stacey that I'd had a 1/4 of a BBQ chicken sandwich for lunch. She sighed and said "Lucy, it's not supposed to take you 4 days to eat a sandwich." To which I replied "But it's from The Claim Jumper." She wasn't impressed.

My core group of friends have been wonderful. I know their efforts have not been coordinated but the timing is such that you'd swear it had been planned. They have stopped by, called, texted and made themselves entirely available all without being intrusive. Too many of them have lived through losing a parent themselves, sometimes both, and they entirely understand. Most folks are wonderful but a few have been completely stupid and insensitive. When one person I work with asked how I was doing I mentioned that I was ok but not really eating. Her reply was "Oh good! Whatever it takes, right?" OMG. I've always thought this person had an unhealthy body image issue. Now I'm sure of it.

My Dad's wishes were ALWAYS to be cremated. I've known this about him for as long as I've known about death. Well, my alcoholic, Catholic aunt called to argue with my Mom about this choice. She called in a slurred voice to tell Mom that she wasn't comfortable with the cremation. Again, OMG. Luckily we don't give a crap about her opinion. This is an aunt from out-of-state who we see about once a decade. She's been drunk dialing Dad lately during Laker and Dodgers games. What a fool.

Then there are the surprising sources of comfort from people I haven't spoken to in a while. The younger brother of an ex boyfriend from college called. Their father died when I was dating his brother. That was about 20 years ago. I remember it well. I doubt I was very comforting at the time, I was very young, but I genuinely liked their Dad and felt that loss. Well, this younger brother called and had some of the kindest most gentle advise I've received. Another friend I've worked with for several years called. He too has lost a father. He offered some very nice opened minded sort of advise that I truly appreciated.

That's the funny thing about this whole tragedy. Some sources of comfort are counted on while others are entirely unexpected... stunningly so.

A friend from work dropped off a bag of things at my doorstep early one morning. In it I found my glasses, a book and a journal. I set the bag aside but finally looked at it all today. I lifted the journal and a card fell out. It was from an unassuming woman I've worked with for years. We are friendly but we don't go to lunches together or see each other outside of work. She is really more of an acquaintance. She had written such a nice note. I then noticed the journal wasn't empty. It had been filled with dozens of notes from friends at work. I read a few messages, began sobbing and had to set it aside. I'll return to it again later.

The outpouring of grief and sympathy has been astonishing. Some of my Dad's oldest friends were almost choked unconscious with stunned sadness as we broke the news. I've heard some of my all time favorite grown men stumble and wail with grief over the phone. It's been just plain awful but I know exactly how they feel and know it has to come out. I don't know if you've ever had to share this kind of news with friends and family but it is, hands down, one the worst things about this whole ordeal.

Mom has received several calls where she can hear someone on the other line but they just can't speak. I think they hear her voice, begin to cry and can't speak. Rather than upset Mom by choking out a "Hello" they just hang up and try again later.

I take a "nerve pill" every night at 10:00 pm, fall asleep between 11:00 pm and midnight then awaken around 6:00 am. My sleep has been uninterrupted, dark and dreamless. It sort of feels like a little death in itself. I hear the dreams will come and that I should welcome them as I would a nice visit with Dad. I'm glad I haven't had any dreams about Dad yet. I don't know if I could take them at this point.

When Daddy died he was with a dear friend who desperately tried to get help to him but they were in such a remote part of the San Gabriel mountains that help didn't arrive until about 5 hours later. As horrified as I am for what my dad went through I'm just as upset for his dear friend. I don't believe my Dad really knew what was happening to him following the fall. His friend, on the other hand, had to live through the ordeal and, I believe is a candidate for Post Traumatic Stress. He's a great guy who reminds me of the man my sweet nephew will be in about 20 years. I will be eternally grateful to him for being there with my Dad when we couldn't be. I hope he gets through this ok. I'm really worried about him.

Of course, I also worry about my brother and my Mom. My brother is moving on to the anger stage of grief and is managing it by keeping busy. Mom seems to be on the same cycle I'm on. I think we're still numb. I wouldn't call is denial, just numbness. I'm so grateful that I'm living at home. I have been obsessed with buying a home of my own and now I'm so incredibly relieved that I'm here with Mom during this time. I can't imagine anything worse than being in escrow or in a new house right now. Thank God, or fate, or circumstance that I'm here with her.

I've learned that grief turns your mind to mush. Words and names often escape me. I know why people need some time off to get through this. I would be worthless at work right now. On the other hand I've found some very calm clarity about some things. Like my crazy alcoholic aunt. My brother is very angry at her because he thinks she upset Mom. She didn't. Mom doesn't really care what that woman thinks so she wasn't upset, just mildly annoyed. I, on the other hand, feel very protective of Mom but I also understand that my aunt has a disease that makes her selfish and ridiculous. People and things that normally make me crazy just sort of roll off my back these days. I'm much more patient than normal. I understand that my brother's anger, while directed at my aunt, is really about this situation. He, by the way, has been amazing. My Dad would be so proud of the way he has swooped in to help Mom. He's been here every day to help with the planning for the memorial. I've decided that we make an impressive team and support system for each other.

I don't know what I did to get so lucky as to be part of this family but I am eternally grateful for them and to my Dad for being who he was to establish such an amazing family. Thanks Daddy.

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