I dreamed I was a child again, playing with my toys. I feel like a child a lot when I grieve. I even cry out for my “mommy” and “daddy” like a girl who has tripped and bruised her knee.
But in my dream my parents were alive, and I was playing with the toys they’d given me. I woke up with a delightful sense of well-being. I felt loved. I felt taken care of.
I realized of all the things I sifted through at my parents’ home, the toys in my old bedroom always made me smile. I cried over a lot of their possessions, but the toys took me back to joy.
Joy is an important ingredient in grief. We cannot properly face the ocean of sorrow that death plunges us into without the life preserver of joy. But how do we find joy at a time like that?
I call July “death month.” Both my parents died in July, three years apart. I’ve been through lots of Julys since Dad’s death in 2006, and I’ve noticed three ways I’ve responded.
We cannot necessarily pick the way we will feel on the anniversary of our loved one’s passing, however, we can prepare ourselves and use the day to further our healing.
Here are the three Ds we may use to address death anniversaries.
Distract. I distracted myself with an intense romance after the death of my father, and on the first anniversary of Dad’s death, I was distracted by the impending breakup. My heart was torn up in so many ways, I hurt too much to know which hurt hurt most.
We may busy ourselves with activities unrelated to our loss. A certain amount of distraction is necessary to weather the throes of grief. Go to the movie. Spend time with friends. But we should not allow life to press us so far that we don’t deal with our grief.
Are we all destined to be children in the wake of our parents’ deaths?
In light of the passing of a young mother last week, I questioned the label I’d once used for myself – adult orphan. Could I really compare my loss to that of three children under the age of 10?
I don’t want to minimize my sense of loss at the deaths of my father and then my mother, and I don’t advocate comparing griefs. But I don’t think I know what these kids are going through.
I want to know how to help. The kids live on my street. They’ve got a home, which they shared with their mother, under the roof of their grandmother. But no one is a replacement for another.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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