"If you hear a voice within you say 'you cannot paint,' by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced." - Vincent Van Gogh

Monday, March 18, 2013

Grief Work

Two weeks ago today my life and that of my family changed forever.

Burned into my memory lies a moment in time that will not quickly be forgotten for it has been rehearsed over and over as if I could have a "do over"....

It is 6:00 AM. I awakened at least an hour ago to use the bathroom. I was mercifully nudged out of a bad dream, in a series of bad dreams... but from the worst dream, I have yet to awaken.

My father is gone. Stolen suddenly from me in the most unsuspecting manner. A life worthy of so much, gone in literally the blink of an eye.

Yes, he was 77 years old, not young by any means, and yet he did not age as so many do. With the life expectancy growing longer, he was snuffed out with words, and life and sermons still in his heart. He was taken away with love for his wife, children and grandchildren. He was snatched away from those who were counting on him to walk him through their issues and faded right out of the lives of young pastors who leaned on his wisdom and experience. His Bible studies were silenced.

His smile vanished from this earth in one dark moment.

Was his death merciful?.... For him.. yes. Maybe even for us as we do not know what future pains we all have been spared. He died as everyone wants to go. In a happy moment, quickly and painlessly, although certainly not with dignity... for death has no dignity.

"Oh death... where is your sting?" It strikes in the face of the unsuspecting. Boldly, brutally....

We lay out our plans.... but all do not come to fruition, for in the end, we have so little control over our lives.

Two weeks ago, as I was working on my to do list, one phone call changed my world forever. "Dad passed out again".... "He's not conscious".... "They're shocking him". Words I can't erase from my mind.... and yet neither can I accept them.

That list... that seemed so urgent at the time... lays on the floor of my bedroom... gathering dust... haunting me. Just a few days earlier a blog entry about being so busy.... multi-tasking with such passion.... not being able to stop and rest. One more week of a big push.... But it was more like a push into reality. A sudden halt from seeming productivity to grief.

Grief is a terrible thing that life cannot prepare one for. It's not as it is in the movies.... a break down, a few days in bed crying. No, it's much more severe.

In the past my grief has been mercifully restricted to grandparents, pets and friends. All have hurt. For all I've shed tears but soon I was able to return to a new norm. I was able to rise above my pain, put my memories in a box and move on.

The loss of my father has cut to the very core of my being for my father was always there for me. I do not know of life without him. His smile... his firm grip.... his deep love. He was my daddy and we know how little girls LOVE their dads. He was my constant support in the face of what I perceived as life's many difficulties and yet now - in the greatest trial of my life, he is not there for me. Such irony.

A great man. A life well lived. Every opportunity seized to make this world a better place. Every moment counted... every breath mattered.

Is my pain so great because he was so special to me? Perhaps and yet not, for surely, those who live with deep holes still feel pain at the death of a parent who should have been but couldn't be there for them.

Here is the truth about grieving....

It is not short... You cannot cry it all out - for the tears are insufficient to wash the pain from your heart.

Groaning and sobs come from deep in your gut for your very soul cries out for relief.

Tears flow freely in the deep silences and in laughter given just so you can stand to breathe. I cry in restaurants, stores, church, airports, planes.... I cry with friends, family and strangers who are kind enough to listen to my sad tale. Initially I feel better... and then, I don't.

Two weeks.... I cry in the sunrise and the sunset. I cry during dinner.... that is... if I could sit down and actually eat a full meal. I cry in the shower... when dressing....

I cannot read. Nothing commands my attention but the grief that washes over me in waves. Distractions are hard to come by.

I hold on tight to people that matter. I kiss more. I squeeze harder. I am more vulnerable.

I dread Mondays... for that was THE DAY... the day my sweet father was released.

Life has lost it's meaning. I struggle to listen to idle chatter. My tolerance for "drama" is at an all time low. "Petty" issues are just that... petty and my energy cannot be directed toward them. The superficial... the mundane... money .... social media ... blogs .... Facebook .... movies .... all full of nothingness. Who cares.....?

My great laid business plans.... flatlined along with the heartbeat of my father.

I cannot sleep... I cannot eat.... I cannot look at pictures of my father without feeling sick.

My stomach does not feel right. I have pain in my left arm. My heart hurts.

I don't walk with a beat in my step.... I drag my body through the room as if I am supporting the weight of the world.

I care not what others think of me. I don't care if they like me or don't like me. I don't care if they like my art or don't like it. I don't care if I win or lose. Come or go. Embraced or rejected... it means nothing to me.

I look at people as if to say... "talk to me about something that REALLY counts". Say something that will make a difference in my life or your life... or the person down the street.

I don't want to write in my blog. Who really cares what I have to say? What difference does it make?

But mostly... I just cry....

I know that this is temporary. I know that "in time".... I also know that time is not a few days or a few weeks for so severe a loss. It's years... Years of missing... years of trying to comprehend... accept.

The truth is that we cannot accept the reality of losing one so close as a father, mother, brother, sister or even worse... son or daughter or spouse. It's not the way that it should be and we all know it!

"Oh death, where is thy sting? Oh grave where is thy victory?"

And here is where I can lay out hope.... Not because I feel it... NO! But because without hope - what do we have? My father's life had meaning and I also must find it in his death.

He taught me how to live and continue to live, I must.

My father's life mattered.

He gave of himself faithfully and consistently.

He served God every moment of his life.

No task was too large or too small for him.

No person was more important than another. He did not rank people by status. He loved them all.

He persevered. He took his city for Christ. Day after day, he woke up and went about the tasks in life that many of us would tire of... but he plodded along... day after day... year after year. His delight was in God and bringing the good news to all people.

I grow tired and weary.... and I'm sure he had his moments. But he found his strength in the Lord. Prayer and the word of God were his food. The Holy Spirit his constant companion, writing his sermons, counseling the masses, fathering the children.

My father taught me that when one feels overwhelmed with pain, they should seek to serve and in the service, the pain will disappear. Oh how I wish I could do it. How I would love to reach out and touch someone else in their pain so that I could strike a blow to the enemy that isolates and destroys.

So today... on a Monday, three weeks from the most memorable of Mondays when my father was promoted to glory, and I was left with sadness.... I must carry on.

I will rise... I will love my neighbors. I will smile and bring joy to people's hearts, even though right now, I feel so little of my own. I will attend to the needs of my family. I will pay my bills. I will hug my dogs. I will exercise, eat right and go through the motions. I will unpack my suitcases and I will breathe...

and continue to cry.... and continue to remember... and continue to trust....

I am one of many grievers. We cannot journey through life and be untouched. Our bodies are frail. We are all guaranteed death. Death can come upon us when it is least expected. Even anticipated death cuts as a knife.

A few years ago, I left my large home in suburban North Carolina to return to this little blue collar New England town to be close to my parents "in their final years". My folks were still in "good health" but I moved here to be near them for when they needed me. I would care for them because I loved them. It was professional suicide but I didn't care, because family matters more.

I mentally calculated how long I would probably have with them. I figured if my father lived to be around the age of his parents... mid 80's to 90's... multiplied by the number of days that I could stop in and visit that would mean many more years of meaningful contact. I bet on something that wasn't guaranteed. My calculations were off.

I should have known better. I had dreams about my dad being taken from me before I was ready. I attributed it to fear and discounted it. I should have known... but I didn't... how could I?

Life is precious!

Leave no words left unsaid. Love freely and openly. Hug and kiss. Live each moment as if it is your last. Look into that sweet face that is looking back at you and tell them what they mean to you. Make your life count for something.

The last time I saw my dad, just 18 hours before his death... I hugged and kissed him goodbye as always. He was sitting there in his chair, smiling at me.  "Bye Dad... see you tomorrow!" "Ok, honey... bye".


  1. Anne,
    Your thoughts are so raw, so real, so vulnerable. I lost my father this past June at 74 and there's still this lingering sense of being robbed or more years, more time, more calls out of the blue, more laughs and visits.
    Thank you for sharing such precious yet difficult thoughts and letting us walk this road of grief with you. May you find the Holy Spirit's comfort surrounding your soul in these deepest moments of pain and struggle.

  2. Thank you Allen.... So sorry about your father too.... May we all find comfort in God's goodness...

  3. I can feel your pain -- because it's mine too.... my precious mother died 4 weeks ago, on Sat. Feb 16... I dread Saturdays right now, 3.15pm, when my Mom drew her last breath... at home with her husband and children holding her and calling out to her..... we love you......... Mom was diagnosed with ALS in May 2012. She reached the good age of 86 (birthday was Jan. 20) but the pain is the same no matter the age. A gaping hole is left. And my heart bleeds for my dear father, alone at 85, after being with Mom since age 16. He lives alone now... so so sad. But the blessings are there too and we are aware of them. Take courage and love while we can. Joan