Saturday, May 21, 2016

"Then they stay dead."

My father with his grandchildren, circa 2001

The line of the title of this post is from a poem by Donald Hall called "Distressed Haiku."

You think that their
dying is the worst
thing that could happen.

Then they stay dead.
I've been thinking of that line a lot lately because, like Hall in the poem, I am approaching the anniversary of the death of a loved one.

It's been almost a year since my father died. And yesterday represented the final saying of kaddish (the Jewish prayer recited in honor of the dead) after 11 months of mourning.

Nearly a year ago, I helped him move through the terrible choice to let go and I've been running away from feeling the echoes of that choice ever since. The time I spent with him in those final months were emotionally exhausting. Being fully present with him and letting us both feel the fear and the uncertainty: I never wanted to be the grown-up in that way. That was always his job. His job to guide and suggest, letting me come to my own decisions. I didn't want to do it.

But it didn't matter what I wanted. My father needed me.

No wonder I have been running away from my own emotions for the past year.

The boxes from his apartment are still stacked in the dining room. I haven't looked at them or opened them. As if leaving them unexamined meant I could avoid unpacking the complicated emotions that went with them.

And one of the more complicated things I have steadfastly not been facing is my fears for my children, knowing that I will not always be here for them.If I don't feel like I have the strength to cope when I am 52 and surrounded by family and love and stability, how can I help but worry about them?

I am feeling very mortal and very small these days, cut off from the past and fearful for the future. Which should leave me anchored in the present, except I'm not. I'm just floating in a void of anxiety.

So I started journalling again. Coming back to scratching words on a page is like returning home. This is who I am. Words comprise the force that energizes and grounds me. The truth of what I feel flows from the pen, even if I want to hide from it. Even if I have no idea where the words will take me. Even if no one reads them and I never read them again.

This is the truth I have been running from: my father's death shook me in ways I am still processing. I am afraid. I feel vulnerable and raw in a way that's different from how I mourned when my mother died

I miss my father's wisdom. I miss his clarity.

And I don't like feeling afraid.


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  1. Man, Momma Lisa, thanks for sharing. That's so, so hard. And I'm sorry for your loss.

  2. I'm so sorry, Lisa. My own father died (unexpectedly) seven years ago, and I remember that first year with such stark clarity. I felt exactly the way you do. The sense of being "half-orphan" was overwhelming so much of the time, and I worried for my son the way you worry for your children. I still do, and it's still there, but the overwhelming moments are far less frequent and my ship has reached a more even keel, for which I'm grateful. It took a long, long, time, though. Don't rush your mourning. It's legitimate and I'm so sorry. I wish there was more I could say.

    Also...I still have a couple of Dad's boxes (unopened) in my garage. Face them when the time is right. You'll know.