What am I supposed to be? At different times in our lives we may ask this question or versions of it. Our sense of purpose – what am I to be? – is wrapped up in our identity – who am I?
Nothing shakes identity’s foundation more violently than death. We were spouses, but now our mates are gone. We were friends, and then our lifelong BFF dies. Sisters, now without a sis.
Or we were daughters, but now our mommies and daddies are dead, leaving us with a crisis of identity. Or perhaps the feeling that we are orphans. Adult orphans. Lost. Belonging to no one.
Death strips us all possessions. So it isn’t surprising that, yes, my parents left behind all their keys – a mass of keys that I combed through on the anniversary of Dad’s passing last week.
Door keys. Car keys. Keys to the post office box I still rent. Keys to who knows what. They didn’t take a one with them. They left them to me to sort through and dispose of.
I remember as a child sitting in the back seat of my parents Chevy, playing with a set of their keys. That’s before we had smart phones and television reception to entertain children in cars.
“What’s this one to?” I asked, dangling one key between my thumb and index finger. My mother craned her head to the left, between the seats.
“I don’t know,” she said. My father didn’t know, either.
I thought for sure they’d already approached senility. How could one not know what a key unlocks? I didn’t know then that you can amass so many possessions and so many keys that you lose track of what goes to what. Earlier this summer, my husband and I got out our keys.
Do you ever wonder which way to go? Which path is the best to take? Which decision will lead to happiness, healing and prosperity? I do. I am at the crossroads again.
Once I pinpointed my location at the crossroads, I realized why I’d been feeling melancholy. Why I’d felt no spark. Why I seemed to be floundering the last several weeks.
The crossroads is a point at which a crucial decision must be made. We must choose a path among the options. Danger lurks at a crossroads. We may pick the wrong way, or even worse, get stuck at the intersection and become ineffective and unhappy.
The death of a mother, a father, a spouse, a child or someone else we dearly love may bring us to a crossroads. Our life has changed. Lots of decisions may lie before us. But we may come to a crossroads long after the death, which happened to me in the fall of 2014.
My mother had been dead more than four years. I wanted to write a book about my grief journey, but I was struggling. I had so much to say, I couldn’t say anything. I was stuck. I was afraid I couldn’t do the work God had given me to do. I even wondered if I had been on the wrong path.
Below are four reasons we may find ourselves at a crossroads. Identifying why we’re at this spot can help us know what direction to take next.
I expected a grand attack of grief upon the 10th anniversary of my father’s death, but it passed with a poised emotional response at the cemetery and a handful of flowers.
Not so this time. Next month marks the 12th anniversary of Dad’s death. And the ninth anniversary of Mom’s. And the 1st anniversary I’ll spend without their home, my grieving space.
How we respond as each anniversary approaches depends in part on the year, month or week that precedes it. Because grief has a way of meeting us where we are.
Right now, I’m in a season of embarking on new things. Excited, yes. But uncertain, too. We tend to run to anchors during uncertain times. After my widowed mother died, one anchor was her home, the place I grew up. Surrounded by their things, I felt as if my parents were there.
That was comforting. Each death anniversary I’d go to their home and go through their things. As the years passed, I finished the job of cleaning out their home. I sold the house in May.
I’ve got an anchor in God, but I also find myself reaching out for my parents during this uncertainty and change. Their loss is on the front row again. And while I’m not exploding in tears, I feel a sort of ache. The loss of the house has awoken the loss of them.
As we approach death anniversaries, we have four possible singular or combinations paths to take.
We may distract ourselves from grief. We may take on a project or go on a shopping spree or spend time with friends. A certain amount of distraction may be healthy, but we should not allow life to press us so far that we don’t deal with our grief.
We may dedicate time to memorialize our loved one. That’s what I did by going to my parents’ home each anniversary. This year, I need to make a new plan. I think I’ll go to the cemetery, but I’d like to do more to acknowledge the loss. Something meaningful. Honoring.
We may dive in or immerse our day in memory and tears. Setting aside time to grieve is an important part of healing. The only way to get to the other side of grief is to grieve. That may look different each year as our grief evolves and as different seasons of our lives unfold.
We may deny our grief or pretend we’re over the loss. That’s the unhealthy way to handle grief. It will emerge in other ways if we deny it a place in our consciousness. Again, the only way to minimize grief is to fully embrace it first.
So even though it’s been 12 years, I’ll bend to grief again in this new season of my life. I won’t deny it or say, “It’s been a dozen years already. Enough!” I’ll be compassionate with myself. And through that compassion I’ll find new ways to journey through grief.
What do you do when anniversaries attack? What’s your go-to plan? What helps most?
Copyright © 2018 by Toni Lepeska. All rights reserved. http://www.tonilepeska.com
I was a Daddy’s Girl. I didn’t know it until after he died. A boyfriend told me. You’re a Daddy’s Girl. I guess that means I was close to my dad. So is it any wonder I still feel him near?
This Father’s Day will mark the 12th one without Dad. I don’t expect it to be a happy day, but I expect it to be at least a tolerable one. I love and miss my dad every day, but the edge is off my grief. Most days. But sometimes I again feel the knife turn in my belly. And the tears flow.
I think it helps to know he isn’t gone. He’s away. But not gone. He didn’t leave me willingly. And I’ll see him again. It’s like he’s on a trip overseas or to a distant – very distant – star.
I find pieces of my dad like crumbs along a trail. I come along the crumbs accidentally. Last week, I parked my bicycle in the shade to rest, looked up and discovered I was under an elm. Dad loved elms. A crumb may be a song he loved that plays in a store. Or a place I pass.
More recently, I perused a booklet that came with a fancy paint-by-number kit. My mother-in-law purchased the kits for our neighbors, ages 9 and 10, for Christmas. Unable to coordinate my mother-in-law and the kids being over at the house simultaneously, we decided it was time that they opened the gifts. Yes, in June, nearly six months after Christmas.
Value. We put a price on everything. On houses. Cars. Jewels. Stocks. Milk. Eggs. Our morning hit of java. We also put a price on people. On relationships. And on ourselves.
We treat everything according to how much we value it. Or how we value him or her. We will protect our person from all sorts of harms. And things we may lock in a vault. Whatever it is we value, we spend time admiring it.
Do you treasure yourself? We know more about ourselves than anyone knows. We know about all the dents. All the angry words in traffic. All the vengeful thoughts. All the curse words under our breath. All the ways we might have helped someone – but didn’t. Can we value ourselves despite those ugly truths?
I was thinking about value the other day while cleaning my mother’s wind chimes. As a child, I loved to hear them tinkle from the wind that drifted into the open windows. A sound memory.
One of the last things I removed from my parents’ home last month before selling it was the wind chimes. The five metal tubes hung below a pagoda that dangled from a delicate chain. I don’t suppose the chime would sell for more than a dollar at a yard sale, but it’s valuable to me. Despite the tarnish and the thick covering of dust. Valuable.
I feel like a cook tasked with making a stew of two dozen ingredients from a recipe I’ve never seen, and I’m a bit overwhelmed and not sure where to start.
Do you ever feel overwhelmed with a new task? Do you ever wonder where to start? Which direction to go? Where to put your energy first?
“What’s next?” may be a question we ask repeatedly during our grief journey. We probably ask it after the funeral. We may ask it later, after our grief has changed us, but we’re still recreating ourselves. Or we may ask it after we’re finished sorting through the belongings of our loved one.
After selling my parents’ home three weeks ago and saying my goodbyes, I was enthused by the idea of paring down belongings at my own home and devoting more time to writing projects. But I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed. I’m bogged down. So much to do. So little me.
I should feel excited. I want to be excited. Instead, I am trying to peel carrots, sear chunks of beef, unwrap bouillon cubes and answer a ringing phone. I’m trying to make something deliciously wonderful out of a lot of moving parts. Where do I start?
I’m going to unpack four suggestions here. What might yours be?