It's been the year of firsts. That awful year after someone dies that you relive every moment with them, that the pain is like a cutting knife in your side and you wonder if you will ever be able to turn off the tears---then wonder at times why they won't come when they should.
People offer you help, condolences, and their memories of the deceased. Most of the time it is for their benefit. So they can feel better in knowing that they did something. But pain and suffering is not always so easily taken away.
Sometimes, no matter how much someone wants to help you they can't take the pain away. You must feel it in order to heal.
The first knife wrenching stab of pain came with the phone call. He was gone. My dad, my hero, my pal in all things sports and cars. He was 65. He just had a newborn grandchild and several small grandchildren. We were told so many things, "It was his time to go." "He will continue to be with you." "He loves you." How many times I had said that to others and how empty those words seemed to fill me during that time. Food tasted bland, hard funeral decisions were made and a lot of prayers were said. I can tell you, we felt every single one of them, because this difficult time was also a time full of blessings. To be surrounded by friends and family who came from so far away to not only show love for my Dad, but for my Mom as well--now a widow in her mid fifties. People I hadn't seen in years but were always close to me in my heart came out to express their love. Through all the pain, my heart and my families hearts were made whole.
The second stab of pain came as I searched through old pictures, trying to get them ready for the funeral. Hundreds and hundreds of photos lay before me, each one telling it's own story that now wrenched me to the very core. My first (and only) art contest, my first softball trophy. How he loved me, and how I wished for just a few moments more with him.
It's amazing that when something like this happens somehow your body is able to go through the motions of everyday. I went through the funeral, only remembering the hugs and love that were poured out to us. I also remembered my son and my two year old daughter making paper airplanes out of my Dad's funeral program, and of my two year old breaking a prayer candle. The Pastor wasn't too thrilled but I know my Dad would be smirking.
The sweetest moment came after the funeral, when my husband took a detour to his grandparent's home that we were staying at. We had one of the most wonderful moments as a family as we sat together, softly crying and realizing the strength each of us brought to the family. We sat with arms around each other, some crying, some just quietly sitting. But at that moment, I felt a love unlike one I've ever felt in my life. My heart was so full and I felt the kind of love that only our Savior can have for us.
After the funeral, I had no time to cry. The pain of our lost beloved dog whom we buried shortly before leaving to my Dad's funeral hit as we walked in the door. Finals were a welcome diversion to the pain and then a summer filled with entertaining kids kept me busy. It was easy to forget and to go through the motions, getting caught up in the kids and what I had to do for them.
When my grandmother died several years before my Dad, I remember having a very sweet and tender moment where I felt her spirit so strongly. I have always known there was an afterlife--I have sat at the bedside of many who passed away and have felt that moment that they slip away. But to me, the talk of the afterlife was to comfort those that passed away, not something that I necessarily believed in myself. My grandmothers passing affirmed that there was indeed an afterlife and that they are always still with us. The thought of seeing them again gives me hope, it makes the pain easier to bear, especially as the years go by and the pain begins to dull. I desperately need to know that my Dad's memory will not be erased, that I won't NOT ever see him again or tell him everything that I wished I could have a thousand and one times before he died.
But it doesn't make it any easier while you are here on earth. You can try to bury that pain, but it only makes it worse. There was a morning one summer that I decided to take a new route on my ten mile run--one that took me up a rather steep hill. I thought I was ready for it. My dog gave me THE EYE--the 'really you want to do this at six in the morning?' I remember being particularily mad that morning when I got up so I felt a new route and a steep hill would somehow help blow off some steam. That's how I deal with a lot of the trials and hardships in my life. Head on and without sappiness. Halfway up that hill I started sobbing. Full on heart wrenching sobs. The sobs that I had not allowed to come out for months had made their way out and on this stupid hill no less! Now I was mad that I was crying. I knew I was a great deal away from my home and my toddler would be waking soon. I didn't have time for this. At that moment I knew that I was so mad because I knew my Dad wasn't coming back. And that I felt he never even said good bye. I wanted so desperately for him to say good bye. To tell me that he loved me one more time and that my Mom would be okay and that I wouldn't forget him. I kept trying to run and cry hoping that some poor unsuspecting runner wouldn't come across me blubbering. And at that moment I felt him on my run. I couldn't see him, but I knew that he was there. My stride changed from painful quick steps to a longer stride, my dog began pulling harder and somehow I made it up that hill and home that day. I even believe that he may have whispered the words, "I love you, I am just busy."
It was a sweet tender moment that I privately have carried for many months. Until the third stab, which came at Thanksgiving. The day after Thanksgiving for the past several years, my parents always came up to Salt Lake and rented a hotel room. I would bring the kids up to their hotel and they would swim, blow bubbles with my Dad in the parking lot and have breakfast with them as they always rented a room with a dinette and kitchen. The kids loved those moments. I always brought some new vegan treat for my Dad to try as I knew his sweet tooth was as big as mine.
I made it through Thanksgiving this year, but would loose it as soon as the kids went to bed, crying for hours. I cried anywhere I thought I wouldn't worry the kids or my husband. Since I was young, crying wasn't something we openly did. Feelings were more personal. So I cried in the shower, in the closet, while doing laundry. My husband and the kids seemed to always somehow find me and would wrap their arms around me and tell me they loved me. It was the greatest source of strength that I had at that moment in my life.
Thanksgiving came and went although the empty void was very much there this year and I felt that I went through the motions. By Christmas I knew that I had to keep myself as busy as possible. Finals, my daughters birthday and Christmas festivities all kept me busy enough to not think. I find that if I don't have time to think I can deal with things. I felt like I was fine. I was even able to make my Dad's favorite vegan cinnamon rolls which was definetely progress, right? I was fine.
I made it through Christmas and a visit to Salt Lake City with my Mom which brought back a flood of memories, particularily when we visited a Christmas exhibit that I knew that my Dad would've loved playing with the kids with. I went through the motions and then the day after Christmas hit. I got sick, I cried and I realized that the emotions are never far from the surface. As I cried I just wanted my Dad to call and rave about the cinnamon rolls, saying it was his favorite package to show in the mail, and to have him ask about the kids and what they got. I just wanted to hear his voice, but I wasn't going to happen. It will never happen again in this life.
I am grateful for the years we had together, for the rough patches and the example he was in my life. He kept going, even until the end. I am grateful for the moments of comfort and joy I have felt over the past year. At times the moments of comfort are easy to see, other times I have to really search to find them. But they are there. And I know they have been there for his many friends and family members. My hope is that my kids will have a knowledge of him. His memory will be integrated into the fiber of our family through stories, memories and pictures. I know that he worked through so much pain and suffering in this life. The pain and suffering he felt, and that we as his family feel now is nothing in comparison to the ultimate sacrifice made in each of our behalf. I am grateful for his example in my life, for each of my family and friends near and far who are there to help strengthen and lift us up during this difficult time. I know, and fear, that in time the pain will ease, that the memories will be easier to recount to the children and won't have the same air of bitterness they do now. I am especially grateful for the love that I feel each and every day.
I probably won't share my emotions here again. I honestly feel so dumb doing it, but for some reason felt that I needed to this holiday season. I couldn't let this Christmas go by without sharing the best gift I received. My Dad's love and the love I get to in turn share with my husband and family and friends. My greatest gift I could receive is for each of you to look for those small and simple moments of comfort and joy in your life. Feel free to share them here if you need to so that others might do the same.
Photo courtesy PhotoPin