This will be the first year that I “celebrate” my birthday without my dad. How do I celebrate a year like this?
I have steered away from writing too many “my dad is gone” posts, because first of all, I don’t want to be “death lady,” and second of all, in general, I think I’m doing pretty well. I mean, I’ve cried every day since he died. That’s 141 days in a row. And I’m sure there were a few strung together before that, too. But life has continued on, and I’m fall-down grateful for it. My kids are getting bigger, and more beautiful, inside and out, by the minute. We have a beautiful home. My sweet mother, husband, cousin, brother, sister-in-law, niece, nephew, in-laws, and countless friends are standing bravely by my side, facing this with me. I’ve decorated my house for fall. I smile. I laugh.
And yet, this week, I am struggling. My birthday and then his, 13 days later. The last time we went out to dinner together was to celebrate our birthdays. And Halloween night last year was the first time that he was hospitalized… the time that we have come to call “The Beginning of the End.”
This month it will be five months that he has been gone. It doesn’t seem possible. Five months is a long time to dread every Saturday, the day that he died. Or to remember every Thursday that it was on a Thursday that he last told me that he loved me.
It’s the cruelest trick of nature that time moves on, because I don’t want to live one more day without my father. Not it a suicidal way, but in an I’m-all-done-with-this-little-game way. And that phrase “time heals all wounds” feels like complete crap. You see, with the passage of time, the gap only widens. He hasn’t hugged me in a long time. I haven’t heard his laugh. There have been no emails from him in my inbox, or hand-written notes on wolf stationery in the mail.
With the changing of the seasons I’ve had to clean out my girls’ closets. When I started, I realized that I hadn’t packed away their things from last winter yet. And as I took each sweater off the hanger, I remembered that my dad saw them wearing these little clothes: the hat that kept Mazie warm in the hospital waiting room, the dress Violet wore when he held her in the kitchen, the outfits they wore on the day of his funeral. How can I give these clothes away? Is there still a piece of him hanging on to them?
In those last days, I begged God to show Dad mercy and I am so grateful that God did. But there is a selfish part of me that just wants him back. And I know that he is with God, but doesn’t God have enough people up there in heaven? Can’t He just send my daddy back? My irrational brain argues, “Well, I know he would want to come back, and we all want him to come back, so I don’t see what the problem is.” Things just don’t work that way.
I’m realizing is that this is what grief looks like. When I was facing this loss, I knew that it would be hard. Then it got here and it’s so much worse than I ever imagined. In those first days after Dad’s death, many well-intentioned people told me things that they thought would make me feel better: “He’s in a better place. His suffering has ended. This will get easier.” But the problem with those sentiments is that they just don’t make me feel better. And truthfully, I don’t want to feel better. We live in a world where we are expected to just suck up what life gives us and go on about our business with a stiff upper lip, or to just look at the positive side of things and ignore difficult, painful emotions. And I’m mad at that. Even my therapist told me, “Six months. Things will be better in six months.” And my first thought was, “Clearly you’ve never suffered a loss.” I just want to sit in these emotions for a while. I know that I must travel through this darkness so that I can once again see the light.
So I cry when I need to, even in front of my kids. I don’t hide these emotions from them. And my sweet 2½-year-old comes and gives me a hug and says, “You’re sad for Zha-Zha?” Yes. “I miss him, too.” Yes. And sometimes she’ll say, “Gosh darn it.” Yes, Mazie, gosh darn it. He is supposed to be here.
That’s where I am now. I am learning to navigate this birthday week and this life without him. And it’s hard. But I am hunkering down with my family, surrounding myself with my friends. And they are faithful, sharing my pain and loving me up. They are baking me apple pies and cooking up pot roast. They are meeting us at Disneyland. They are lifting me up in prayer and holding my hand, just as good family and friends are supposed to. And thank God for them.