The death of my father changed everything. My cocoon turned into chaos in July 2006 after Daddy suddenly died in the Mississippi home where I grew up. At 39, I became my head-strong mother’s primary caregiver, a role I welcomed but found difficult to administer.
I was familiar with other kinds of losses and other people’s grief. I’d begun my newspaper career as an obituary writer, questioning the grieving about attributes of their loved ones. As a crime reporter in Jackson, Miss., and then in Memphis, Tenn., I interviewed victims and survivors in the throes of loss. And as I came along side grieving friends and experienced other kinds of losses myself, I become an unofficial student of grief.
But the death of my father was personal. And then, three years later, my mother died of emphysema after a fall. I was left with a house full of my parents’ effects – 36 years of stuff – and a longing to have my mother and father back. I was a newlywed of four months, brimming with joy on one hand, but crying for my lost parents on the other.
The job to clean out their home and create a new life paralleled each other. Each object told a story, whispered a memory, and gave me pause. Getting rid of my parents’ things felt like throwing pieces of them away. So I kept a lot of their things. Letters. Clothes. Keepsakes. I kept them for years, cleaning out the house slowly as I confronted my grief head-on.
I know people like me are out there, though I’ve probably taken my attachment to the extreme. We share a kind of grief that doesn’t want to let go. We look for answers. I can only speak from experience, but some of the answers are out there, waiting for us to discover them. They give new perspectives on our loss and provide comfort.
Though my experience is largely through the lens of discoveries at my parents’ home, I grieved them everywhere. I’ll write about that, too. You’ll see common ground, common experiences. I hope what I say encourages you to make room in your life for grief. Don’t run away from it. It will chase you. True, it is hard, and sometimes it’s scary. Use grief as the teacher that it is. It’s so worth it.
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