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Do You Grieve for Grief?

I survived the yard sale without any major kick from grief to my insides. I’m not sure whether to celebrate that fact or bemoan it. The absence of grief is in itself a grief.

I snapped a photo of my father’s fire engine red tool box at the feet of the buyer. I took other photos of the tables of dishes, including the plastic plates our family ate from year after year.DadsToolBox

I didn’t feel the sharp ping that I’d felt during our 2012 yard sale, when things walked out of my driveway and out of my life – pieces of my parents I’d never regain.

In fact, it was around that time, three years after my mother’s death, that I experienced a grief over losing grief. I mourned the loss of the intensity of sorrow.

It still puzzles me why we do that.

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Cleaning Out Parents’ Home Painful, Valuable Process

I should have known better. I’ve been grieving long enough to know. But because I didn’t think ahead, I planned the last grand sale of my parents’ belongings right before Father’s Day.

And right before “death month” – July. Both my parents died in the month of July, three years apart. Every year I march toward the month and replay their lives and my loss. I go over to their home on the anniversaries, go through their things and decide what to keep and what not to keep.

It’s a common ritual for the living, that of deciding to do with what the dead left behind. For some, the task is too painful. They assign the job to a friend, or even hire out the work. Others madly toss stuff in boxes that get put into storage. They put their grief behind lock and key.

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A previous yard sale at our home. Several of my parents’ things sold.

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What Acceptance Stage Means to Me (and How I Didn’t Want to Go There)

I thought I’d never reach the so-called “acceptance” stage of grief, and I didn’t want to. How dare anyone think I’d consent to my parents being ripped from my life?

And yet I find myself in a strange place. After a multi-year strangle-hold on my parents’ belongings – which helped me feel close to them – I’m letting go of items far too easily.GriefAcceptance2 (3)

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Pond Water: Learning to Weather the Storm of Grief

We flushed the toilet using pond water and we took turns in a vigil by the gas stove, our only source of heat. In this way, we survived a power outage one winter during my childhood.

I didn’t imagine my parents were teaching me how to weather a crisis, a physical one. Many years later, I’d need this skill for an emotional crisis, for their deaths. For separation from them.

All my life, my parents placed building blocks in my life on crisis management. The utility outages sort of run together in my mind as though they happened singularly. In truth, we faced a handful of times together as a family, braving the cold after ice storms and utility malfunctions. I learned self-reliance, perseverance and ingenuity.

These incidents came to mind after Memphis experienced high winds last week that knocked out electricity to thousands of homes. We didn’t have power overnight, for more than eight hours. At this writing, about 30,000 customers continue to be sitting in the heat with no power for the a/c.TreeDownCopy (2)

I grew up outside of Memphis. There in the country where trees flourished beside power lines, we experienced electrical outages quite regularly. And so I know just what to do.

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Facing Fear to Follow Father’s Footsteps

I squealed and talked into the camera. A selfie video. I was going to take the calculated risk of being drowned in an endless ocean to do what my father had done. To follow his footsteps.CharlesIsland3 (2)

Are you afraid? I am sometimes. I was afraid after my father died. I was afraid of a life without him, an ever-present anchor. A friend. A fan. A guide. Grief generates fear. How would I manage?

Honestly, I was always a person of fear. As a child, I feared the dark. Now I fear the water. Not so much that I won’t go into a pool that’s over my head, but I don’t venture far from the edge. I’ve never been on a cruise. The Titanic comes to mind. Read more

Keepsake Keeper Resolves to Latch Onto Memories & Hope of Heaven

I want to share a poem with you that I heard again just before Mother’s Day. I first read it in 2011 at a memorial service for a teenager. She had died “out of order,” before her parents.

Jessica was very much loved. Her family and friends crafted a garden at the church she attended and put the poem in concrete. A particular word stood out for me. It felt like that poem was mine. Maybe it will be “yours,” too.

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A beach on the shore of Connecticut, where Dad grew up. When I go here, I think that I might be walking in his footsteps. He visited the beach as a boy and then with me.

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Two Thoughts to Keep You Sane on Motherless Mother’s Day

I discovered the homemade Mother’s Day card inside a box of her things and read what I’d written at the bottom as a young teenager.

“If I didn’t have you what could I do?”

Indeed, I told myself, sitting in her house among her things, This is the question I’ve lived with since she died.

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My mother and father on their 40th wedding anniversary in 1998. They marked the day by renewing their vows.

This is my 8th Mother’s Day without Mom. Among my friends are those who face their first Mother’s Day without their mamas. For others, it’s been many years.

We all manage to get through it, but not so easily. I hope by the end of this post, you can personalize my ideas and cope more easily.

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How Do We Survive Grief?

How do we survive grief? A major component is embracing new things. New routines. New relationships. But we stubbornly resist. We want things the way they’ve always been.

Must we discard the old to make way for the new?

Sometimes perhaps, but not always. Healing is at its best in the memories that contain both the old and new. And so we come to my father’s desk lamp.DadDeskLamp (2)

The lamp reminds me of the aliens in the 1953 movie, War of the Worlds. Perched on two slender posts, the convex head beams light below – like an alien head.

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Can You Hear Me Now? Dusty Phone Reveals Dead Parents’ Message

I received a message from my parents on their phone the other day. Dad has been dead for more than a decade, and the eighth anniversary of Mom’s death is in July. But I got a message.

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My parents’ phone. The number is blacked out in this photo to protect privacy, but the message to me was loud and clear.

I’m not talking about a message from beyond. I do not believe we should seek to communicate with the dead. At best, the purveyors of such messages are misled. At worst, they conjure evil spirits that pose as dead loved ones. However, I sympathize with mourners who seek connection.

I wanted connection. I especially wanted to talk to my mother about her death. I wanted to tell her I was sorry that I’d left angry. I wanted to tell her how much I love her.

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Daddy’s Filing Cabinet: When Parents’ Possessions Walk Us Thru Grief

Where do daddies keep their daughter’s handmade birthday cards? Or brochures of sports games they attended together at her college? May I suggest they keep them in their filing cabinets.toni2017-2

That’s where I found the ones my father kept. He stashed old utility receipts there, too, and appliance manuals and sermon notes and photo copies of funny cartoons.

I found my dad in the filing cabinet after he died. That’s the way I put it. I discovered and rediscovered small details of his life. Of him. Of us.

One thing I found in the filing cabinet after both my parents were gone was a draft of the note Dad wrote on my college scrapbook. With him dead, it took on new meaning.

“I love you so much – You may be out of my sight, but never out of my heart.”

You better believe I cried.

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