Tag Archives: grief

I Ate it All Up.

papanonnoDear Papa,

When I moved to my new apartment, I ordered French Toast take-out. After the first and then the second bite, I began to weep.

It tasted so much like your French Toast–made lovingly and specially with Hawaiian Bread–I struggled to swallow around the lump in my throat. A part of me did not want to eat it. I wanted to take great gulps of water to drown the taste away. But another part of me, the part of me longing for comfort in the great mess I’ve gotten myself into in this last week, could not stop eating.

I missed you so much then, holding my plastic knife and fork, forgoing syrup because I did not want to dilute the taste of your French Toast, the taste of comfort I felt like God was offering.

Sometimes I forget that you are gone and when I remember the sadness hits me in the gut, as if I am a child fallen from the monkey bars and all the breath goes out of me. Each time this happens, it is less dramatic but it still happens regularly. It’s almost easier to pretend that you are a drive away, albeit a six hour drive, but a drive. I don’t consciously pretend but eating that French Toast, knowing and feeling your absence, I realized that’s exactly what I have been doing.

So I cried while I ate it. I cried the whole time because it reminded me of you and you are not here any longer and because I have been having such a hard time in this giant pickle and it felt like you, through this random restaurant’s French Toast, were offering some type of comfort, a kindness.

And it was comforting.

It hurt too though, because I was actively feeling, something I tend to avoid. But as I ate, slowly with tears falling on Styrofoam, I was glad to hurt. It felt healthy and right to mourn you then even as you comforted me over this stupid mess that has tripped me up. So I ate and cried because it felt right.

I cried because I missed you; I cried because I made a huge mistake; I cried because there are things I wish I could say to you; I cried because I remembered the picture of you and Nonno–two great men, both sides of my family, and me, the first grandchild for each of you–holding me with such pride and joy and youth.

I am grateful that I was first because it means that I am the eldest. It means I remember a younger and more tender version of you. I remember your bedtime stories. I remember your Lemon Soup; how I told you I liked it a lot to spare your feelings which meant you made it for me whenever I saw you. I remember how proud you were of me at every graduation and every important moment. I remember the rusty, “I love you too,” that sometimes was so hard for you to say.

You are the hardest worker I have ever known. You went through more than anyone else I have ever personally met and I know this because I listened. asked you about things and you told me things you didn’t tell the others. I thought you could fix anything in the world; I thought you could build anything too. And you did. You did.

If you were here, you could not fix this mess. I know that.

I don’t forget that you blustered and yelled and could be grouchy too, but I do not forget the rest because to do so would be dishonest. People rewrite history when they forget your French Toast, when they don’t remember the way you would have done anything for your family or a neighbor or just about anyone you ever met. Did they ever sing songs with you like I did? Did they ever just see you as storyteller who just wanted to be listened to?papafrenchtoast

When I think about it now, I know that you loved me and were proud of me. I know you wanted the best for me and worried about me. I know you sometimes cursed me too but you were never indifferent, never unfeeling, uncaring. I know that you wanted to be loved and respected.

People can say what they like now. They can blame you for wounds, remember the hard parts of you instead of the good, even the great. I won’t do that though because it isn’t true picture of the man you were. If they endured one tenth of what you did, they would fold. I would fold. In that way, you were a prince of a man, a hero. Your shoulders bore more than any of us can even imagine, far more than you ever even told us. I do not and cannot begrudge the way you coped.

I miss you.

The ironic part is that if you were still here, I could not say that to you. I never shared my deepest fears with you or talked about my greatest dreams. You were a great man but talking about feelings was not something you knew or practiced.

So it made sense, that last week, when I did not want to see anyone or talk to anyone, because of my mess, when I did not want to talk about it, that God chose to comfort me tangibly with a part of you. You would not have made me talk about it and He did not either. He just sent me French Toast that tasted as if you had scooped it from the pan and placed it on my plate.

I ate it all up.

Your,
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My grandfather went to be with the Lord a little over a year ago. I wrote about it and the process of saying goodbye: Holding up the Sky | Taps: God is Nigh | The Dance.

 

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Grieving Elephants.

Grieving Elephants 1If you have been around here or here, you may have noticed I have a love of elephants. It began when a friend who knows her animals, listed off some facts about elephants and when I heard these things and then looked into the eye of an elephant, I fell in love. It was kismet.

Did you know elephants grieve? It’s one of the things that make them incredibly rare in the animal world. They mourn the dead. If the elephant is in their herd, they form a funeral procession. If they come upon a fallen brother or sister, they lift their feet and feel with their trunks–learning this elephant and saying goodbye at the same time.

Their pregnancies take 22 months and so life blooms slowly as grief is observed. I know my pregnant friends cannot imagine two years of pregnancies but maybe that is why these animals care so much for their dead. Someone once told me that if a mother’s baby elephant dies, she would try to lift him, over and over again, until she breaks her tusks.Grieving ElephantsGrief is a hard thing. Saying goodbye to my papa was much more difficult than I ever anticipated. As someone who will do anything to avoid emotional pain, I was suddenly in fear of all my relationships. It wasn’t enough to only have people in my life who wouldn’t hurt me because they loved me, because inevitably, they would whether they wanted to or not. Glennon Doyle Melton writes about a conversation with her son and a dead goldfish, “I told him that we don’t love people and animals because we will have them forever, we love them because loving them changes us, makes us better, healthier, kinder, realer. Loving people and animals makes us stronger in the right ways and weaker in the right ways. Even if animals and people leave, even if they die, they leave us better. So we keep loving, even though we might lose them because loving teaches us and changes us. And that’s what we’re here to do. God sends us here to learn to be better lovers, and to learn how to be loved, so we’ll be prepared for heaven” (147).

I like that. I like it a lot. And yet it is hard for me. Because I don’t want to be weak and I don’t want to be hurt and I don’t want to keep loving knowing I may or will lose. I avoid these things.

Yet his power is made perfect in my weakness. He calls and commands us to love, both himself and the people he puts in our lives. And he doesn’t include exceptions like: love hard unless you may be hurt in the process. Grieving Elephants 2In the best book on grief I’ve ever read (A Grief Observed), C.S. Lewis admits, “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” Oh! That makes so much sense. Fear has chased me my whole life. It chased me right into God’s arms. It still keeps me awake at night. It still pushes me towards perfectionism. I hate fear and I hate grief and I hate loss.

Elephants mourn. They grieve. This makes them unique and special. They feel. I run away from feelings. I watched a YouTube video of a herd of elephants coming across a fallen elephant they did not know. They stopped, they took their time. They kept lifting their feet, in angst perhaps? Their trunks reached to touch him.

They did not run past him. They stopped.

And here is what I have learned. You cannot outrace grief. It will beat you every time. You must walk through it. Grieving Elephants 4What if I just felt these things as they came, instead of fighting them off–loss, grief, fear, hurt, pain? What if I allowed my heart to break?

I think God promises: if your heart breaks, we will rebuild it into something more like mine. I never thought of it like that before and all the energy I waste fighting those feelings back, against the current of feeling, could go towards loving and grieving and the mess that is life.

What do you think, buddies? Are elephants making me maudlin or wise?
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I Want.

IMG_7959Of all the cities in all the countries, of all the cabs, I’ve ever taken, this guy was the worst driver ever. It was so bad, that at one point, I had to say, “Sir,” in a particular tone (which I have never done before) because a bus almost ran into us. It was not the bus driver’s fault, needless to say. And you know what? I was mad. The more I thought about it, the longer I sat in the cab with his horrible driving I sat through, the madder I got. I was mad at the cab driver and his lack of care for my safety and pedestrians. I was mad that in a few minutes I would have to pay this man and tip him because I did not have cash and the tip is automatic. I was mad at the fibromyalgia and the heightened pain I experienced today that had me taking that cab instead of walking to the el. 

I wanted to rage at the driver.

I did not.

Because even though I am mad, I am not mad at him. I am mad that the world keeps on spinning while I am grieving. I am mad that clients require work done when I want to lay my head down and cry. 

And then in another moment, I am not mad at all. I am exhausted. I am exhausted from feeling all the feelings I’ve felt since hospice first called me down to say goodbye to him through the funeral and then back to my life in Chicago. I want to settle into my apartment and lock the outside world out, curl up with books to read and no bra. I want to take long naps and not think. I want, I want, I want. IMG_8629

God is still good. I know this the same way that I know the sky is blue. I know this. I know this. I know this. I have never doubted it and I don’t doubt it now. It’s not something I have ever had to struggle with and I don’t struggle with it now. But I still do want to curl up in my white bed, in my gray pajamas. I want to tell the world to come back another day.
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The Dance.


Papa was an incredible dancer. Girls wanted to dance with him for that reason alone. It had nothing to do with how attractive he was or if they had a crush on him. Even his cousins would follow him to the dance halls, hoping to be twirled around the floor by Gus.

When I went to see him, after hospice called me, dancing is one of the things we talked about. During his surge, when suddenly he was himself, able to recall in perfect detail things from long ago, he talked to me about the dance halls and how he loved to dance.

On the other side of the bed, my mom told me that any time there was a wedding, she would be so excited. Later, she would major in dance at college, but as a little girl, the thrill of dancing with her father at a wedding filled her with joy. While we talked she said, “Anytime there was a wedding, I was always like, oooh!” She waggled her fingers in the air. “I get to dance with Dad.”

I think you know you are grieving when even recounting happy moments like this make me want to cry.papainhat

But back to the dancing.

Papa always said that when he did die (morbid, I know) we had to play his favorite song–Glen Miller, In the Mood. If Papa didn’t get up and dance out of the casket, we were allowed to bury him.

After the church service and the service at the cemetery, after the military thanked him for his service, saluted him with 21 shots, folded the flag and presented it to my grandma, after people meandered off to their cars, I stood with my brother, my three cousins, Granny, Mom, and my Aunt. It was just us–the ones left. That alone hurt–the absence of him in out space.

My brother (who hates to be talked about on the blog but I cannot tell this story without him) is one of the toughest men I know. He is not one for affection or touching moments, to say the least. But he took out his phone and he played In the Mood.

It’s a happy song. It’s a song that makes you want to dance.

I think that is why it was Papa’s favorite.

It is also a long song. Or it felt long because we wanted it be long. It went on and on. All of standing there, apart but together, watching the casket as the cheerful melody went on. Papa did not get up and dance. We did not expect him to. But we let the song play out until the very end, all three minutes and thirty two seconds of it, our eyes on the box that held the body of the man we loved.

When the song ended, we all got into a huge SUV that fit all eight of us. We had no room for even one more person. We could let them bury him now.

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Holding up the Sky.

Yesterday afternoon, after I wrote this, my papa went to be with the Lord. I am posting this because it’s important for me to record this part of it and the women who cared for him. And then I probably won’t talk about him for a little while, keeping my grief private–at least until I work things out–for a time.papaI don’t like to wear the color lavender because I remember staring down at my sweater and shoes when we found out we would have to unexpectedly have to put my childhood dog to sleep. We were so shaken because it was unexpected. “I can’t go in there,” my dad said. “Neither can I,” my brother added. I didn’t blame either of them. I did not want to go in either. But my normally quiet mom spoke up: “I’ll go. I don’t want her to be alone.” And then I found myself saying, “I’ll go too,” because I did not want my mom to be alone and because I could not turn away from my mom’s reasoning.

Sometimes you cannot turn away.

That memory came back to me this weekend as we sat around my grandfather’s bed. The we was my mom, my grandmother, my aunt, and myself. All women. This is nothing against men, especially the men in my family. But as I watched my mom put chapstick on my papa’s lips or pretend to hang tools on a non-existent pegboard because he thought, in his mind, she’d left them on the ground, I knew instinctively that this was sacred work we were all doing. My grandmother brushed his hair from his head. My aunt made us laugh when we wanted to cry (this is a gift in and of itself). I am still trying to understand what I did. Maybe it was keeping this record.

I’m treading carefully because I so badly want to say the thing I mean and not be misunderstood. So often, men want to fix things. But there are some things which cannot be fixed or put back together. Some things we must watch fall apart, or in fact, die. These things are important and need to be done well. So often times, it is women who hold the vigil, when there is nothing to fix, when there is difficult comfort to give, when there is nothing to do but wait with the hardest anticipation.

We held our breath in that room–the women of the family. None of us felt abandoned by the men/boys of the family. I know for a fact that none of us felt as if they were lesser for not being there. Somehow it seemed right that it was us. I’m not saying women belong in one room and men in another or that there are certain jobs women are made for and others for men. All I can tell you is what I felt in that room: that it was supposed to be the women of the family watching over him.

I have a confession to make. I have often overlooked the strength of the women on this side of my family because it is more quiet than other kinds of strength I am more familiar with. This past week, I was humbled beyond belief. Quiet strength can hold up the whole sky. It bears all types of burdens we cannot imagine. It bears them quietly and without complaint. It holds on with a tenderness and a fierceness that surprised and humbled me. It is slow to weariness.

I learned this week, about the quiet strength of specific women. Gentle strength is a force to be reckoned with in and of itself. It should not be discounted.

I do not discount it.

 

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