This is a stirring reflection on the slow motion of grief, given to us by a friend of Mockingbird, Kevan Lee. You can read more of Kevan at his own website, Invincible Future.
My dad passed away nine months ago, and it may as well have been yesterday. How is that? Why is that? Nine months ago, I pushed pause on life—I wanted to push stop, I wished oh how I wished I had pushed rewind—and someone came along and pressed play without telling me. I am in the bathroom while the movie runs. I am staring into the fridge while the Giants score a touchdown. It’s not an entirely awful place to be, this limbo. It’s empty, it’s surreal, but awful? I’ve been to awful, and this is different. Some days I feel like a champion for my will to mourn, feel like the world owes me its pity and respect for my being the last one standing after everyone else has gone home. Get the lights, they say. I’ll get the lights. When I’m ready.
I’m not ready, and everyone else is. Everyone was ready months ago. At the funeral, I was sure we would all be in a terrible funk for weeks, months, generations. We’d wear black. Businesses would close. Christmas would be postponed. The Super Bowl, cancelled.
That’s not the way it happened.
Days—not weeks, not months, not generations—days after I lost my dad, the status quo returned. Did the status quo not see how many flower arrangements were at the funeral? We’re talking dozens; local botanical gardens were torn asunder. The world lost a great man. What was the rush of picking up where we left off? Moreso, what was the point?
I wish I could mourn faster. I wish I approached loss at 1,000 miles per hour, my hair bouncing in the wind and my tie frayed from all this grief cruising. I wish I didn’t judge others who do. How excellent it must feel to blaze through the stages of grief at breakneck speed—denial, anger, bargaining, the fourth one, acceptance—one after the other, bam-bam-bam.
Why can’t that be me? Why are my free-time thoughts still caught up in eternity and mortality and whether or not I chose the right picture for his obituary while everyone else thinks about the weekend and Fast and Furious?
Can’t we all just follow the same grief script? I’ll make the copies, promise.
Maybe there’s something I’m missing. Grief doesn’t need to be this hard. Some days my slow and steady grief feels like the youth group game of scissors where everybody sits in a big circle and passes a pair of scissors back and forth to one another, saying “I’m receiving them crossed, and I’m passing them uncrossed” or vice versa. There’s a catch to the game that not everyone sees right away. You could be correct in saying that the scissors are being passed uncrossed when, in fact, the actual scissors are crossed. There’s a secret code, and poor you if you can’t figure it out. This is what the grief process feels like to me sometimes. I am holding the scissors and have no idea how they were passed to me or how I am passing them to others. I don’t get the conceit. Here I’ve sat, passing scissors back and forth for nine months, guessing and failing.
Instead of breakneck recovery, I keep inching forward. At parties, I endure by putting on a mask, my party face. It is one of many faces I own; you should see my collection. My party face makes it look like I’m having a great time, really enjoying these lawn games and this sports conversation, all the while wishing I was somewhere else.
How do you speedsters do it?
I’ve asked God for advice. Okay, technically it was more like begging Him to fix everything. Our relationship has changed since my dad got sick. It is deeper and fuller; we fight, I question. After all we’ve been through, I feel I’ve earned the right to ask God for a few favors. He owes me. If anyone were to receive time travel in return for intercessory prayer, it should be me. If anyone were to be shown the secrets of life and happiness, I’ve got dibs.
Truth be told, He has helped me make progress. I am getting there, somewhere, slowly and steadily and in His perfect timing, which is never my timing. I am a basket case fewer days of the week than before; I laugh at stupid jokes more easily. There are days when I can see the crest of the hill off in the horizon, and it doesn’t look too far. Maybe I’ll make it there by nightfall, I tell myself stupidly before careening into an embankment of memories.
We can’t all be like me, thank goodness. Some get a free pass into acceptance and the next season of life. The rest of us should start a club. Every meeting begins with hugs and ends with doughnuts. Who’s in?
Some days, I feel like slow and steady is the proper way to grieve. Other times, I’m desperate for a quick fix. In reality, I know that grief is as personal and unique as the individual who is grieving; there is no right way to get over the loss of someone you love, Doritos help but are not universal.
Still, it would feel nice not to be going it alone.
I’d rather not be sleepwalking while the rest of the world waltzes.
Or at least I’d rather people sleepwalk with me.
A man approached me after my dad’s funeral, red-faced and emotional, fighting every impulse not to break down. He hugged me, enveloped me. He told me he believed every word I said in my eulogy. My eulogy, by the way, was not touchy-feely; it was gritty and real. I spoke from my heart, and it just so happened that my heart was on a bender. I spoke of how deeply my dad would be missed and how so many everyday sights and sounds, places and people, how many memories would bring him back just long enough to notice he’s not here anymore. I did not paint a rosy picture of the future. I tried not to paint any future pictures at all because, the future? Who has the wherewithal to think of the future? The future may as well be the Holy Grail, flying pigs, the sword in the stone. It is mythical. It is ethereal. It is daunting.
The man hugging me was not someone I knew well. He knew my dad through work, my dad brought him to the Lord, they fished together and talked shop together. They went way back. When this man told me that he was having a hard time coping with my dad’s loss, I believed him, 100 percent. By all accounts, I was the more composed person in that bearhug, which was saying something.
The funeral was the last time I spoke with him. I wonder how he’s doing. I wonder if he feels my dad’s loss as acutely as the day of the funeral, like I do. I wonder if he is flooded with memories every time he drives near their fishing spot.
Maybe he and I are kindred spirits running a mourning marathon. Maybe not. Maybe he has found that life should hold a balance of progress and remembrance, that it is possible to move on without forgetting.
I sincerely hope so. I know that I will never forget. I will always keep him close to my heart. I long for others to tell me they do the same, that they still think of him and that these thoughts are uplifting, empowering, and joyful. I yearn to embrace the maturation of loss as time heals. Everything seems to take time, so much time.
I know my time is coming. It is on the horizon, it is pulling into my subdivision, it is waiting for me to pick it up at the airport. Time heals all wounds. It’s just not in the same hurry I am.