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 had been 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 had interviewed victims and survivors in the throes of loss. And as I reached out to 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. With a longing to reconnect. I was a newlywed of four months, brimming with joy on one hand and crying for my lost parents on the other. I stood on the precipice of an identity crisis. While great love remakes us, death also changes us forever.
The job to clean out my parents’ 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. Thus, 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.
Observing the lengthy process as the years passed, others may have believed I was stuck in my grief. What they didn’t comprehend was that in many ways, the clean-out process helped me move through the intensity of emotions. Only by grieving can we hope to lessen grief’s consuming power.
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 found answers, and I also became okay with the questions that lingered. I found new perspectives on loss that comforted me and treated the wounds death and loss inflicted. Now I want the stories I tell to help others navigate grief.
I tell inspirational stories from my experiences, but we’ll also find common ground as we confront grief. While the clean-out process was a big part of my process, I carried my loss everywhere. I’ll write about those experiences, too. I hope what I write will inspire 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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