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Am I Grieving? Why Do I Feel Like I’m Doing it Wrong?

Someone I loved has disappeared and it kind of makes me want to disappear a little, too.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Alisa Schindler

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My father is dead.

My father is dead.

I have to say it to myself again and again, because even though I literally watched him die, I don’t quite believe it. Am I in shock? I’m walking through my days, consciously keeping busy and yet at the same time doing less, hibernating more. Someone I loved has disappeared, and it kind of makes me want to disappear a little, too.

I’m a little fascinated that the rehab facility and hospital phone numbers fail to show up on my phone a couple of times each day, and that I have almost forgotten these numbers that I knew by heart. I am both relieved and depressed simultaneously. But mostly I am numb.

Friends check in and ask how I’m doing. I shrug and say fine. It’s not exactly true. Acting normal kind of feels like acting, but I don’t want to cry all the time, either. Or even much at all. In fact, I can count the times I’ve cried on one hand.

To be fair, I also cried at some random, seemingly inappropriate times. Like when I realized I didn’t have turkey to make the kids’ lunches. And when my husband told me I had purchased the wrong flavor seltzer. Am I grieving? It doesn’t feel like it, or at least I don’t feel like I’m doing it right. All I feel is weird.

I’m aware that everyone processes loss differently and in their own time. There are some well-known and well accepted steps to this whole grieving thing that somehow shuttle us from denial to acceptance, but there is no right or wrong. You can cry or not cry. You can feel many overwhelming emotions or none at all. You can go through all the steps or skip a few.

“Someone I loved has disappeared, and it kind of makes me want to disappear a little, too.”

I guess I’m somewhere in there. Almost every moment of every day I intentionally don’t think about my father. I’m finding the best way to cope with a situation that is out of my control is to not think. What good is going backward when it’s filled with so much pain? I didn’t like being so needed by him. I didn’t like all the ugly his suffering brought out in both of us. I resented the constant issues, problems and screwups that needed fixing by me on a regular basis; the talking him down off emotional ledges, and his overwrought I’m sorrys and Thank yous. I like where I am in this strange limbo between fantasy and reality, where my father is miraculously having a good week and doesn’t need me, so we just don’t speak.

Over a year ago, I went to lunch with a friend whose father had recently passed. Like my father, he had his fair share of struggles and difficulties and being his daughter wasn’t easy. In fact, I wondered, even assumed, that now that he was gone, she would be relieved. Sad, yes, but comforted that someone who suffered so and made her suffer as well was finally at peace. I was apparently projecting because my assessment was not correct. She told me that there was no relief, only sadness, and the same unanswerable questions that will never be understood because death destroys any hope of resolution, however unlikely they may have been.  

I have all these emotions which, like him, are a messy mass of contradictions, and make me keenly aware of what my friend was feeling. I don’t find relief in my father’s absence. I feel adrift. I have a gaping hole in my day that I used to dedicate to his calls or visits, and a similar one in my heart as I try to come to peace with the man he was in the beginning, and the man he was at the end, and how they were both my father.  

All I know is that I don’t know anything—that was my father’s favorite expression, and it couldn’t be more true. So, I’m just going to keep going and “grieving” the way that works for me, which is by eating too much ice cream, reminiscing and laughing with my brother, and pretending it’s not real. I’m not in denial. I know he’s gone. But right now, it’s about moving slowly, one day at a time, until normal feels like normal again.

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Published September 11th, 2018

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