The Mellowing of Grief.

Image by Joanne Van Leerdam.

 I woke up this morning miserably aware that not only is it exactly four weeks since the day my dad passed away, in is also the anniversary of my mother’s passing. 

I miss them both enormously, but somewhat differently. It as yet another vivid reminder that grief doesn’t necessarily get easier; instead, it changes over time. 

The emotions I feel over Dad’s passing are still quite raw and very close to the surface. They often overflow, especially in the quiet times and in the mornings, and when I see something or go to a place that was meaningful to Dad, or hear a piece of music he loved, and even more so when I do something on my own that we used to do together. 

Still, I recognise that my grief for Dad is mellowing. The abject misery and gut-wrenching sobs of fresh mourning are giving way to less intense, but just as abiding, sadness that overlays each day. 

There are reminders when I’m in the supermarket because I only need to feed two people, but I have to remember to pick up extra cat food because his beloved kitty is waiting for her new people to move into the house. Each day, I spend cuddle time with her because she is lonely, too. And spending time in his house without him is a bit weird, so I am keen for the house to be filled those people and life and conversations and music and laughter again, too. They have started to move some things in, and it actually helps to see their cups in the cupboard and their pictures on the wall instead of his.

Some days, like today, are harder than others. Other days, the demands of life, the mental challenges of teaching and interacting with kids, and time spent with those close to me are things that provide welcome distractions. 

I have been really surprised, though, by my lack of desire to stay home on my own for any length of time, which is most unusual for my introverted self. 

I think that comes from home being full of reminders and triggers that prompt me to think about how much I miss Dad, and about how things changed so quickly. It’s not just the obvious things like his hat or his walking stick, which I have kept. It’s the emptiness of his favourite chair in my study, and the fact that he isn’t coming in asking to go to the shops, and suddenness of having complete freedom on my days off because I don’t have to take him to appointments, and he’s just not there to pop in and visit, either.

For almost nine years, I would drive past Lovelybanks and think about how that was where Mum had been in care, and how hard it was to visit her when she barely remembered me anymore. I would think about the day she died: it was a grey, cold day, much like today is. When Dad moved in there, the hardest thing about visiting him was walking past the room where Mum spent the last months and that last day of her life, when I sat with her and held her hand and said my last goodbyes. Now, I drive past and it feels strange to not call in to visit Dad, as was my habit when he was there. I wonder how that came to feel so normal when he was only there for three weeks. 

I have also been contending with the sneaky, private guilt that tries to insinuate itself into those times when I think or say things like “I no longer have to do x or y” or “We can do whatever we want to now that we’re not caring for Dad anymore”. I refuse to accept or allow that guilt, because I know that I faithfully and lovingly did everything possible to take care of my dad, and so did my husband and the rest of the family. And yet, that guilt keeps on showing up and trying to get its foot in the door. 

My grief for Mum is definitely gentler most of the time. Her birthday, Mother’s’ Day, their wedding anniversary and the anniversary her passing are days when the emotions are more powerful and painful. Every year, I think maybe it won’t happen, but it does. It seems grief has a mind and a memory as sharp as my own. 

I’ve also been confronted with lots of memories of Mum while organising things for Dad. Going through old photos, writing his eulogy, retelling family stories and memories with my siblings and their partners, children and grandchildren, and cleaning out the home Mum and Dad shared have all been healthy but highly emotional experiences. 

Dad used to tell me I was just like my mother. And in many ways, I am: her love of words and word play, her love of poetry, her gift of teaching, her sense of justice, her art of mediation and moderation. Some people say I look like her, although I don’t think I particularly do. Perhaps it’s mannerisms or expressions that make them think so. I know that sometimes I open my mouth and my mother comes out of it, especially when admonishing one of my less cooperative students. She was really good at that— I can testify from personal experience. Mum always wanted to write a book, but never did, so I know she would have been proud of me for achieving that not just once, but thirteen times.

I know that I am a lot like my Dad, too. I’m pretty sure that is where my cheeky humour comes from, and my impatience when I am frustrated or in pain is a lot like his. 

There is a lot of me that comes from both of them, though: my faith, my love of books and reading, my love of learning, my love for and commitment to my family, and my loyalty. They taught me perseverance and a strong work ethic. They taught me far more than I can possibly identify or list here. 

When they lost their own parents and other loved ones, they taught me that it’s okay to grieve and necessary to cry, and they taught me that life keeps going regardless. 

The one thing they never taught me was how to not to miss them. That’s one lesson I don’t think I will ever learn. 

The Mellowing of Grief #grief #griefjourney #emotions #personal #blogpost

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