Tuesday, October 14, 2014

365 Days + Eternity

To mark the One Year, we rented a house in Port Aransas. The house full of people, the visits with friends, having us all in one spot was all great - but it didn't feel like therapy. I thought I would feel something on that day, that one year anniversary. I thought I would feel different or tragic or weird. I think I was just too busy driving, working, and visiting, and quite honestly I didn't want to stop and breathe, and think about what it being ONE YEAR really meant.

While there I had a conversation with a family friend about "outlets." It's not new news that everyone grieves and processes grief individually. I think I took a lot of time during my dad's decline, and while he was still alive, to prepare and grieve in my own way. But I also know now that I truly fulfilled my type-A, controlling personality stereotype and I threw myself into work and moving forward, without really looking the beast in the eye. So it's hit me in little waves, and affected me in more subtle, slow-growing ways. I keep coming back here to write about it, because that is truly the outlet that works for me. For now. I can talk about it, without having to talk about it. I can unload and then hide away for a month or two. I can write to an invisible audience, but not have to listen to anyone's opinions or advice. I think some grief counseling might be in my future - not really because of losing my dad, but because of the WAY we lost him, and what I witnessed in that death, and how it changed me as a person, and all the questions about life that now seem uncapturable and, certainly, unanswerable.

It's been a weird month. Like so much of the last year and a half, I'm not really sure what to think, but I do know I'm having a lot of thoughts. Like ALL OF THE THOUGHTS. I feel as though at least one of them must be profound, worth remembering, or at the very least therapeutic to write down, so I am. This is rambly and winding, but I need them to get out of my head and out into oblivion.... so I can let some of them go.

Most of the time now I'm just tired. TIRED. I don't have a baby or even a true 40 hour work week to blame so I'm going to point the finger at the blanket of sadness we all got wrapped up in last year. If I can name one way grief has affected me, it would be that it has exhausted me in a very deep, penetrating way. I have what I call "foggy brain" most days - unless I'm doped up on coffee. I was never good at small-talk, but now I'm reeeeally awful and completely lose my way in conversation - stopping mid-sentence searching for a common word or to even remember what I was saying seconds ago. I have no attention span or short-term memory, and mostly - I want to sleep. No amount of sleep makes me feel really rested, just craving more, and yes, I'm well-aware that these are all pretty key signs of depression. It comes and goes. Being busy helps.

To be honest, some of the best and the absolutely worst moments of my life happened last summer, so there's really no surprise I haven't left it behind just yet. I've talked about that before: how you have cherishable moments brought on by horrific circumstances, that make you feel all at once so thankful and so guilty for that same gratitude. But the absolute worst of last year's events ended on September 25th.

That the day my dad died was not the worst day of my life, in and of itself feels awful. That was the day my dad slipped away at 4:05am, with my mom's head on his shoulder and her hand in his, and we gently bathed him, sang him songs, and helped carry his body down the stairs, watching as the hearse carried him off and forever away. But as awful as that day was, it wasn't the worst.

The worst was the week before. The worst was the last doctor's appointment we had, the last time my dad left the house, the last day we brought him home with news that felt like boulders in the bottoms of our stomachs. Yes, that was a terrible day. That was the day that finally a doctor looked us in the eyes and told us with a sense of finality and no false hope that my dad's liver was one big lumpy tumor mass. That we needed to call Hospice. Not tomorrow or next week, but today. That day... That day was the day my dad hobbled out of the hospital leaning on me, his once strong grip weak and submissive, his arm around me and mine around him, holding him up. I took deep breaths to hold in the wave of nausea and fear and panic that was rising like a tsunami inside of me. My sister and I helped him into the car, and I remember so so so clearly: concentrating so hard - on waiting until I was sure my parent's car was out of sight so they wouldn't see, before letting that wave crash over me, finding a bench to sit down, and admitting to myself we were not going to be the lucky ones. And the second wave hit sitting in my sister's car - trying to dictate what needed to happen next. Trying to think clearly enough to delegate. Trying to be "okay" enough to drive myself home, having been told my Dad had just days to live. That day was it for me. All of my fears crushed me. That day was awful.

There was more awfulness in the week that followed, the worst got worse. I quite honestly can't even recount it, because my heart starts palpitating and my stomach starts churning. But September 25th wasn't the worst day. It was a day of true sadness, with a depth and a meaning unlike anything I had ever known, but not despair. No, I felt relieved. What we had witnessed in that last week made death seem so innocent by comparison.

So, my disclaimer should have been, no one can hate me for saying that - you can't know or understand unless you really have cared for a hospice patient. Unless you have watched someone die in pain, rather than in peace. If you have administered liquid morphine, and suctioned out saliva, and rubbed vaseline on peeling lips, and changed bed sheets, and watched your family member shrivel and become hollow and waxen, unable to form words or to grasp your hand or even open their eyes - sure, go ahead and pass judgement on my feeling that the day my dad died was not the worst day I've endured.

There are certainly terrible things that come afterward, which is why there are thousands of people who've built careers around helping the grieving and thousands of books to guide you toward rebuilding. When people say it's a nightmare, there's a reason. That's exactly what it feels like. Over a year later, and I'm still not sure how we just wake up and do normal things each day. It feels as though the world should have stopped, or everything should have been somehow distinctly different from that moment onward. And weirdly, it's not so different, even though so many things have changed. And that in itself is the most frightening aspect of death and loss to me so far. Time doesn't stop. We don't wake up, because we're already awake. We start to forget. Life grows around that little blip, that little timestamp in history, and continues forward like it has for hundreds of thousands of years. 

Some days I think, "did it really even happen?" Some days I can't be sure.

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