Last year I wrote a post about grieving through the anticipation of death and loss. This year, on what would have been my dad’s seventy-third birthday, I am finishing up plans for a socially distanced compliant church memorial service.
For over two years now we have felt the grief of losing Pop in his normal capacity. The fun-loving, patient father and grandfather we knew was confined to a hospital bed following an acute episode of cardiac arrest toward the end of 2018. While we knew that this condition would in all probability be terminal, and we experienced seasons of sadness as we walked closer to the inevitable, the shock of his passing was immensely painful. The ability to prepare for loss, while it allowed for us to arrange some logistics, did not make the finality of death any less heartbreaking.
It has been two months now since Pops died. In some ways I have had the time to process the complex emotions that come with the death of a loved one. But in others I’m still in the early stages of grief, especially since we still have the celebration of life service tomorrow. And a celebration it will be. My father was not a materially rich man, but he lived in a way that showed what he valued. He was devoted to his family and was involved in the lives of his grandkids. They were his pride and joy, and whether it was simply watching them to help us out, or attending their many performances and events, you could tell he loved the time he got to spend with them. The weekend before he went into the hospital, he helped watch my kids while the husband and I were away at separate conferences. He had taken them to Chipotle, as was his habit with Sami, and Jacob will always remember that the last place Pops would drive him was to his junior year homecoming dance. Dad’s friends would often point out that indeed, he was a very rich man. And he agreed.
In addition, he served his country honorably. He was a Vietnam veteran, and spent over twenty years between active service and the Army Reserves before he retired. His final resting place is at the Riverside National Cemetery, where we laid him to rest following a ceremony with military honors.
I have learned on this journey that there is not a prescribed way to grieve. We often talk about the stages of grief, and while there is some truth to the emotions that accompany those stages, I have learned that grief tends not to move in a linear pattern. I have days when I feel that I have accepted my loss, days when I’m in tears, moments when I can’t believe he’s gone. I think it will get more routine with time, but there will be a part of me that misses my dad, especially as my kids reach milestones- high school graduations, Scout ranks, band and debate tournaments- those things he had looked forward to celebrating with us, and now he’ll miss.
I am fortunate to not have too much to regret, but I do have two regrets: I wish we had been able to see him and say good-bye before he went home to the Lord. The last time I saw him living was March 16, 2020, the day that the hospital locked down to visitors due to the Covid19 pandemic. I thought we would be able to see him again. But we were not allowed back into the hospital until after he passed, nearly ten months later. I know that he wasn’t alone in his last moments, but I wish we could have said good-bye before he went.
The other regret is what everyone seems to experience when they lose a loved one. I, like many, wish we could have had more time. Life is so short, no matter how much time you have on Earth. He would have loved to see the grandkids grow up, graduate from high school and college, and become young adults. There were family vacations we never got to take, Cubs games we never got to see, a talked about visit back to Chicago that never materialized. I even miss the regular Sundays at church, talking over a donut and coffee with his Sunday School class, or going to family lunch. But the fact is that I miss those things because I was blessed to have those things. I was able to have my father in my life and the life of my family, and we are so thankful.
That’s the thing about grief. It is not just sadness or pain. It can be tempered with joy, laced with gratitude, grounded with love. In the words of Vision on the Disney hit “WandaVision,” What is grief, if not love persevering? The grief is powerful, because the love was great.
If you are experiencing grief and loss, please reach out to a trusted friend, family member, clergy, or counselor. It really does help to talk, even if it’s just to reminisce about your loved one over socially distanced coffee or drinks. There are also links below, depending on your need and area:
Grief Share Groups
Hospice Foundation of America
Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration