“There’s no expiration date on grief.”
For the life of me, I can’t remember who I heard say this, and I can’t remember if they were quoting someone, or if it was their own personal gem. What I do know is I was twenty-two, my friends and I had put in a night of dancing and drinking at Red Jacket in Dallas on Sunday night for Red Square Retro, and had hit IHOP after to refuel with caffeine and carbs.
At age thirty-seven, the sentiment came home to me, hard, when my father passed away, one week after his seventy-second birthday.
“You’re going to have it lessen, and have it hit you hard,” one of my friends who had lost both their parents in their twenties had told me. “Think of it as the ocean: it’ll come in light, then it’s going to crash hard. You can’t fight it either way, so let it hit you, and then let it subside. You fight it, you’re going to drown.”
And hit me, it did. There were the obvious days it would crash into me: his birthday, the anniversary of his death, father’s day, my birthday, my adoption anniversary, holidays. Then there would be moments when you’d least expect it: walking through the French Quarter with a friend in July of 2015, I’d seen a balcony that reminded me of the one in the hotel we had stayed in when our foreign exchange student Maria had gotten married when I was ten; I’d reached for my phone to call my father, more than a year after he had passed, and after dialing four of the numbers, I had stopped and started crying in the midst of the crowd. My friend had simply walked me back to our hotel, grabbed a bottle of wine from his room and joined me in my room to talk me through it.
Certain experiences in my life since his passing: The World Series, the All Star Game, driving Route 66, graduating from yoga instructor certification training, times when my kids have done something big or hilarious, there’s been a knee jerk reaction to call him and tell him about it.
With no direct line to heaven to call him though, what I’m left with is this ache that the man who raised me and taught me (either by his example or by his mistakes) how to live is no longer here to share my life with. I’m left instead with writing him letters I place in a fire proof safe, or going to the mausoleum where he’s interred and talking to the plaque with his name on it.
He’s been on my mind lately, like he always is this time of year. About a week before Father’s Day, a tightening takes place in my chest that doesn’t loosen until a few days after the anniversary of his passing. That grief rolls in, and it’s there, a part of day to day life for me.
I don’t fight against it. As someone who spent years hiding from what she was feeling, sheltering herself from potential hurt by not letting herself feel what she was feeling, I’ve learned to accept how I feel as how I feel. I don’t fight it; instead there’s almost this academic observation, and where as I don’t welcome that grief, that feeling of loss, I also don’t run from it. It just is, the product of having a damn good father who raised me.
I seem to have a lot of friends going through the process of the break-up, which has led to a lot of conversations about, well, break-ups. Talking to an old friend about his break-up, he stated that he just flat out hurt. Having had my share of break-ups in the past, I said to him what was written in a meme someone sent me when going through a rough break-up myself: “It’s supposed to hurt. That’s how you know it meant something.”
Hurt is a natural part of life. “No pain, no gain” is a common phrase you hear within the fitness industry (although we yogis somewhat smugly say “If there’s no pain, there’s no pain”), referencing the fact that when you feel pain while working out, you’re experiencing growth. The same is true of life.
In my past, I’ve thrown food, anti-depressants, alcohol, and filler experiences at the pain of loss. In the months after my father’s death, privately, I did not handle it with much grace, spending my personal time perched on a bar stool, sucking down cape cods like they were water. But coming up on two years past his death, I found myself right in the middle of one of the biggest heartbreaks of my life. Looking over my life, looking over how I had done things in the past, I realized I was tired of repeating the same mistakes, the same knee-jerk reactions, because I always ended up in the same place. I’ve spent the last two years facing hurt head on when it happens, and the result of spending thirty-nine years hiding from hurt is that I have to face it again, in the present, since I couldn’t handle facing it when it was going on. Facing it now is harder, because I have to reopen those old wounds. Had I just faced it then, it would have been easier. Had I just let it crash into me, instead of fighting it, I’d of had more time in my life to enjoy the beauty of life instead of having a shadow of things left unresolved hanging around.
The grief of losing my father is rolling in. It’s up to me to let it wash over me, accept it, and then let it go.