Yesterday, I experienced perhaps the greatest wave of grief since those first few weeks. It hit hard and knocked me down greater than I was expecting.
Being a social work major in college allowed me the opportunity to go through many classes that dealt with grief. We even had one entire semester dedicated to "Death and Dying". You can learn all the book facts and have all the "right" answers, but experiencing it yourself changes everything. It's just like being a parent. When you aren't a parent, you can read all the books and know all the facts. You may "have" all the answers, but until that day you hold your child in your arms and your heart starts beating on the OUTSIDE of your chest....you just can't fully comprehend it. Everything changes.
I was extremely homesick and wanting to be home the previous weekend. Relay for Life took place in Gallatin and I had purchased a luminary for Dad. Seeing those pictures were unreal. It was honoring and special, yet it was overwhelming. It left me speechless to see his lit up among rows of others----others that have lost their battle with cancer and others that are still fighting with every thing they have in them. I also wanted to be home because it was decoration at the cemetery where he was buried. Knowing it was the first one and the emotions that everyone was dealing with was hard. I wanted to be home. I didn't want to be home at the same time. I toss back and forth between those emotions so often. Torn. Constantly.
However, what hit yesterday was hard. I've been extremely busy in the last few weeks. I've not really had a chance to slow down and think about much except the actual tasks at hand. Because the things I'm working on are important, fulfilling, and necessary...I haven't felt out of sorts. Being busy is a good thing, but yet it's a bad thing when you do stop. Because at that point, it ALL comes back and you realize just how much pain you've been carrying around and pushing away.
The breaking point came from the very harsh reality about Father's Day. I have been completely focused on preparing to celebrate Kevin with the kids. We have spent several weeks thinking and planning for his gift. In all of the buzzing around, I didn't stop to think about what it meant for me. For the first time in my life, I won't have MY daddy here to celebrate. It didn't even really hit me when I was buying Kevin a card. Because my sole focus at that moment was on buying Kevin a card from me, I didn't take the time to think of the other implications. When it hit me like a brick yesterday, I broke. The weight descended greater than ever. I will never walk down a card aisle or pull out my card making supplies and make my own Dad a card. That amazing man isn't here.
Granted, I will spend that day celebrating Kevin because he is a prime example of godly fatherhood. He deserves EVERY second and MUCH more that the kids and I will spend with him trying to make him see how much he amazes us. I will throw myself into that day for him and not regret a single second. However, my heart is ripping apart.
I still find myself stuck in this odd place. EVERY single day I know my Dad isn't with us. That is reality and it's something I think of often. But yet, there is the odd sensation every time someone mentions his name and most especially when I pick up one of his picture frames to dust. There is this pause that is only a flash of a second, but yet it feels like eternity. It's that moment that my brain remembers that the picture is only a representation now. That man isn't 328.6 miles away working in the garage restoring his classic cars, working at church, sitting at the desk in his home office pouring over some kind of paperwork, or doing something that needs to be done on the farm. He isn't cheering along at a ball game or watching one on TV. He isn't sitting in his favorite chair waiting for one of the grandkids to crawl up and sit in his lap. He isn't picking up the phone and saying "Yello" (never HELLO!).
I am cherishing the memories and every day I remember another one that is priceless. That is the JOY to be found in grief. There are moments that no matter how painful the loss is, a memory soothes the heartache away. I am wrapping myself up in those moments. I hold onto his last few hours and his victory arms as he was ready to walk home with Christ. I let those moments wash away the horrendous memories of the suffering and images that no one can ever imagine unless they've seen the deteriorating effects of cancer and chemo on a healthy body. I let the victorious moments wash away the pain that comes when the kids miss him like crazy. I let the victorious moments exemplify the beauty of my "Sweet T" keeping one foot forward every day even though her heart is ripped to shreds.
I hang on. What else is there to do? I made a promise to my Daddy that first weekend after we heard the devastating news. Only very immediate family knew at that point and the house was still quiet as we tried to process our next steps. From the first moment, we knew that his battle was so extensive that his only real victory would not be an earthly healing. We never dreamed that the 6-24 months time frame would be five weeks. What I do know is that on that quiet weekend when we talked as a family about our next steps, I made a promise. It was a promise that I would NOT blame God and I would not let this journey damage my faith in any way. I would be strong enough to make sure that my kids saw my strength to carry them through whatever was going to happen. Though we sometimes make promises in the heat of a moment and can't always live up to them, I made it whole-heartedly. THAT promise is what carries me through gut wrenching moments like yesterday.
I was broken. I'm still today struggling with keeping my focus and not having epic moments of being in a puddle in the floor. It's possible. It would be easy to allow to happen. Most every other "hard" moment has come as a shared brokenness. The kids were experiencing a hard moment, so I was strong for them. Teresa was having to deal with something we never dreamed of, so I was strong for her. We were strong together. Dealing with some paperwork I never dreamed of holding in my hand was unreal, but the focus of getting the task done made it bearable.. But having the realization of not having a father to celebrate on Father's Day is about me and I think that is why it hit me so hard. It's so much easier to be strong for anyone and everyone else, but when it's just about me....that's when it is the hardest.
It's also getting tough because I'm forgetting. I'm forgetting what his voice sounds like. How is that even possible? I think that is something we take for granted. The familiarity that comes with those dearest to us is so easy to take for granted.
I don't know what is next on this crazy journey, but I'm thankful. I'm thankful that for every moment of pain there is a joy. I'm thankful that even though there are people that have greatly disappointed during this journey because of their lack of sympathy, their coldness, or their attempt to trivialize our pain, there are many others that have stepped in with just the right words at just the right moment. I'm thankful for a husband that let me have those moments of brokenness, letting me cry on his shoulder until his shirt was soaked (and more than once throughout the day). He didn't tell me that "it will be ok", "I know how you feel", "you can still buy (make, send) a card", "you need to be strong","hang onto your faith". He didn't tell me anything of the sort. He simply said he wished he could take it away, but he couldn't and simply let me feel anything and everything that I needed to feel in those moments. I'm thankful.