Yesterday was Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday of the entire year. It was a weird day and it ended badly.
Late in the day, I called my mom to do the Happy Thanksgiving thing. I received the news on that call that my Papaw’s health had deteriorated again and the doctors only expected him to have a few more weeks with us. This wasn’t exactly a shock. He’s been sick for a while, but when we saw him in May he seemed so much better, so much stronger. I hadn’t heard anything to the contrary until this phone call.
I cried. A lot. We were on our way to visit with friends when I made the call to my mom. We decided to go to our friends’ anyway, hoping that the evening would provide some distraction from the hurt and sadness. It was working. My friends (and I have some of the best friends in this entire world) asked what was wrong when I walked in with my red, puffy eyes and sniffling nose. I told them I had received some really bad news, but that I didn’t want to talk about it… please. I was handed a beer and the conversation was blissfully silly and unimportant and not one more word was spoken about my bad news.
I was eating through my emotions (chips, dip, olives, pork skins, pecan pie, ham that I wanted but was denied b/c it was all gone) but I was smiling, a little. I wasn’t crying. I wasn’t thinking sad thoughts. And, then my phone rang again. It was my brother calling on Mom’s cell phone with the news that papaw had passed.
My heart broke… right there at my friends’ dining room table and the pieces of it slipped out through my eyes and down my cheeks. They put their arms around me and held me and consoled me. Don took my phone and talked to my brother for me. I cried. The world slipped away on the other side of the hands that I covered my face with. I was unaware of anything for a while other than the hurt. When I could breathe again. When I could open my eyes and focus on something other than the sadness, we took our leave and headed home.
We came home and the boys were downstairs. There was no way that we could not tell them. One look at my puffy, sad eyes and Don’s face and they wanted to know what was going on. Don told them. Then they cried too. A lot. They came into the bedroom where I was sitting and we had a very teary, sad sort of cuddle pile. We talked about the things we loved about the man. We talked about the things were were going to miss about him. We talked about the sadness. We cried some more.
Then… I gave them permission to not be sad. I told them I wanted them to pray for our family when they said their prayers before they went to sleep. I told them I wanted them to remember the good things and think happy thoughts about papaw and then I told them I didn’t want them to be sad anymore. I said to them that I didn’t believe that papaw would want them to be sad, that he always loved it the most when his grand kids and great grandkids were happy.
I told them to go back into the living room and play their video game, play with their friend who was spending the night, play a game, something… anything but continuing to be sad. And, you know what happened?
They dried their eyes. They hugged me tight. And, then… they left my bubble of sadness and did just what I told them too. They played, they laughed, they wrestled. I gave them permission to not be sad and they went forward and were not sad.
I envy them that. My sadness has stuck around. It is a little more insistent… a little more determined. It will not let me take my own advice. I have moments where I am feeling ok… feeling mostly normal and then without much warning my eyes are leaking again and the sadness is all back. I want to give myself permission to not be sad. I want someone else to give me permission to not be sad. But, I’m not sure I would be able to take it, no matter who gave it to me. I feel like not being sad is disrespectful to his memory… like if I’m not sad, somehow I don’t love him as much as I thought I did… like if I don’t miss him every second, somehow I’m not grieving enough.
I haven’t ever had to deal with the loss of someone I love. I have no idea how I’ve made it 39 years without a single deep loss like this. But, because of that I have no idea how to deal with this. I don’t know what is normal. I don’t know what is ok and what is not. I don’t know how to feel and when to stop being sad. Part of me wants to wipe the tears, pick myself up, dust off and carry on. Part of me wants to crawl back in bed and cry for the next week. Part of me is watching in utter fascination I go from being ok to falling apart and back to ok all within the span of a few seconds.