Today marks a full year since my father died. And while that sentence still feels odd, I’m adjusting to this new reality, which also feels odd. The waves of sadness still crash against my heart at unexpected times, the questions from my children (and myself) still flow regularly, and I still occasionally pick up my phone to call him. This year has presented questions, answers, and more questions. It’s brought with it healing and long-buried memories & pictures, like this gem of my dad’s grandparents!It’s brought with it longings and laughter and lots of creativity as we all grapple with what happens when you die? Last week 5-year old Judah asked if he could teleport to Papa where he imagines him in heaven eating his favorite food while riding on the neck of a pet brachiosaurus, and Mia imagined herself reunited with Papa…as mermaids.
I’ve been quieter this year- on my blog and in my soul. I intentionally continued to share tidbits of life on social media, mostly so I could actively participate in finding & sharing joy, and also to remember this foggy year down the road, but I haven’t felt the ability to write more in depth. For years I’ve had a meaningful letter hanging on my fridge, written to me from my dear friend and mentor. Her words rang even truer this year:
As I watch your life develop I see cycles of produce, when everyone can see your fruit, and cycles of pruning, when there seems to be little going on. Whether in produce or pruning you are still connected to the Vine! For me, the time of pruning, waiting, and unseen renewing requires the most courage, most commitment to orientation in the humdrum of life, a willingness to remain in reality even when it is boring, and a dogged endurance. In the dormant cycle, when it seems that I cannot make any headway, my trustworthiness really shines. They also serve who only stand and wait (John Milton). Standing and waiting is staying connected to the Vine even when nothing seems to be happening. By standing and waiting we are submitting to the cycle of renewal. The harvest will be unpredictable, but it will come. Stay connected.
This first year without my dad could definitely be described as a winter; a season where nothing seems to be happening despite the backdrop of the mundane busyness of raising little children. It could equally be described as one where I have clung- like seriously white-knuckle-grip-clung- to God my Vine. It has gone by in slow motion and yet I have surprisingly few memories of the past 365 days except for what I shared on social media or in my journal. And yet so much is happening below the cold, frozen earth. The roots of my soul have gone deeper and they’ve found new nourishment. As a daughter, I’ve learned that, though my grief feels so unique, billions of children throughout the history of the world have been feeling as I do when they’ve lost a parent and that the only thing unique about my loss is that it’s happening to me! This truth feels cold to me at times, but it also feels comforting. I am not alone. I also have an empathy for others who’ve lost a parent that I didn’t have access to before. I just didn’t know what it was like until this year.
As a mother, I’ve also come to terms with the reality that death will continue to be a part of my children’s lives and that it doesn’t have to be scary; that their walking through loss at such young ages can be a privilege and assistant to their development, and I believe that has been the case. The same is true for me.
As a wife and friend, I’ve realized that my sadness is my responsibility and cannot be pawned off to others. It is unreasonable to expect others to feel exactly as I do at the exact same moment, and there’s no shortcut to healing. The only way out is through, my mentor reminds me. I’ve discovered that deep sadness and profound joy can coexist, and that I can heartily laugh with others even while my heart physically hurts.
I’ve felt with new conviction the profoundness of the cliche & overused phrase life is short. I’ve been moved over and over again by the kindnesses of others near and far and I’ve discovered that my love language may just be random texts saying I’m thinking of you today. I’ve slept a lot this year. And then I’d spend entire nights unable to rest. I’ve cried until I’m pretty sure my eyes have earned new crows feet. I stopped exercising for a season and the only movement I seemed to manage was slow walks and deep breaths through the neighborhood. Those were so very healing.
Gaba Calm became an on-hand help when my emotions seemed about to consume me, and meditation became my tutor. Sitting quietly with my sadness has been one of the hardest trainings of my life; everything in me has wanted to distract myself into oblivion. The healing group Karis Fellowships and the app Pray As You Go produced by Jesuit Media Initiatives have guided and nurtured me tremendously in this season. As have the giggles of my children and the quiet support of my husband. Homeschooling has kept me from staying in bed for.ev.er. and beginning more intense workouts again is helping me get reacquainted with my dormant, former peppy self. I also think high intensity workouts help me process emotions like anger and sadness more efficiently #freetip #you’rewelcome
My dad died right as the birds started returning with all their chirping and nesting and life. Another reminder of seasons and renewal. As those same birds return once again now and the fog seems to be lifting a bit for me, life feels different now. Less permanent; more of a privilege. Less scary; more sacred. Less constant; more cyclical.
Thank you to everyone who has offered kind words, texts, emails, cards, gifts, hugs, meals, laughter, adventures and other signs of love and life as I grieved. I believe they are part of the fruit of my harvest even as cling to the Vine and submit to the seasons as He ordains them.