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Grief Diary, 10/3/12


The phone rang this morning: it was Rick, and my first thought was terrible alarm. “Is Dad okay?” Then I remembered. It’s weird. For so long now, Rick’s ringtone has meant, “Is this the call, the one telling me Dad is dead?” I wonder how long it’s going to take for that to change.

I keep having stretches where I feel relatively normal, like I could just get on with my life without much problem… and then I feel guilty, like I’m not giving Dad his due. Then I have stretches where I’m dazed, numb, paralyzed, unable to make even the smallest decisions… and then I feel dumb, like I’m over-reacting to something that was completely unsurprising and indeed something I’ve been welcoming. No matter what emotion I’m having, it seems to be accompanied by a self-conscious meta-emotion, feeling like whatever I’m feeling is wrong.

I know. There’s no timetable. There’s no one right way to grieve. Everyone does it in their own way. Well, apparently my way is “self-consciously, and wondering if I’m doing it right.”

I think the bottom line is this: My dad is dead. No matter what is happening, it’s going to feel wrong.

I’m having a hard time with some very weird decisions. Like whether to put my bra on first, or my jeans. I have a tendency to do that anyway, even when I’m not grieving: I’m an over-thinker, and I’ll often spend more time thinking about the most efficient way to do something than it would have taken to just pick one way and do it. But this tendency is now dialed up to eleven. And it’s focused on incredibly trivial shit. Every decision feels fraught, loaded with symbolism and meaning. It reminds me a little of when Ingrid and I were planning our wedding, and we couldn’t make a decision like “cloth tablecloths or paper?” without feeling like it was communicating some great truth about our relationship and our values and our future together. It reminds me a little of that… except in a horrible, depressing, fucked-up way.

Today we — me, Ingrid, and Rick — went to see my dad’s wife Caroline, and sat in their apartment. Her apartment. I don’t know what pronoun to use. It was weird: this was the apartment I grew up in, the apartment I lived in from third grade until I left home, and it felt weird. Alien. Not like home. It’s been somewhat like that for some time: the physical space itself is very different from how it was when I lived there, and it has been for a long time, and it’s had that surreal “home but not home, familiar but not familiar” feel for a while. But it was much more like that today. It was hard not to keep remembering all the times Rick and I had sat there in the last few years. Which, to be blunt, weren’t all that different from today: Dad hadn’t been able to really communicate for a long time, so when I went home to visit, Rick and Caroline and I would sit in the living room and talk and watch TV, with Dad there in the room sitting and vaguely listening. Everything was happening around him and without him, even though he was the whole reason I was there. So it was like that today… except without Dad. Almost the reverse of how it was before: before it was like he wasn’t there even though he was, and today it was like he was there even though he wasn’t. Plus, today Rick and I would occasionally pause the conversation to look over Dad’s books and art, and decide what we wanted to hang on to. Plus, this was the room where Dad had his hospital bed for the home hospice care. This was the room where he died. So there was that. There were long stretches when it felt almost normal, just reminiscing and shooting the shit… and at the end of the afternoon I was exhausted.

Of course, now I have a stupid second wind, and am wide awake. Had a big slice of gooey chocolate something at a cafe, which I knew was a bad idea and would keep me awake; but I’m trying to be kind to myself and not resist small comforts, and a slice of gooey chocolate something at the cafe seemed comforting. Which it was, to be honest. Also, the counter guy at the cafe was really nice. Kept giving us sample spoons of gelato flavors: basil, pistachio, salted caramel, lavender, mocha, guava, Butterfinger. One of the things about having my emotions dialed up so high is that small kindnesses seem huge. I don’t know if he could tell we were having a bad day, or if he was flirting, or if he was bored, or if he was just a nice guy. But the little free tastes of gelato two and a half days after my dad died… I was touched by it, all out of proportion. I have a suspicion that I’m going to remember that for a while.

I’ll leave it at that for tonight.


  1. susans says

    Something terrible happened and you react emotionally. There is no right or wrong and there is nothing wrong with trying to find a way to not feel anything for a while. Death hurts.

    Sometime in the days following my father’s death, I was walking through the kitchen when I just lost the strength in my legs and sank to the floor. Self-consciously I thought, “But that just happens in movies”.

  2. christinea says

    Thank you for blogging about this. I suppose there are as many kinds of grief experiences as there are grieving people. I lost my father when I was too young to experience grief in an adult way. So grief came to me in small doses, throughout my childhood. When my grandfather died and I was an adult, I experienced some of the feelings you’ve described, such as a sense of unreality and difficulty making small decisions. In other ways, my grief experience was different. Maybe because he died suddenly and I was unprepared. Maybe for a hundred other reasons.

    In any event, I think you’re right. There’s no correct way to grieve. Things are probably going to be up and down for a while. I wish you the best.

  3. No Light says

    It’s been four months since my FIL died, and every time my partner’s phone rings I still think “Dad’s ill!”, it meant that for eight years.

    Love to you both.

  4. otrame says

    Grief can be odd. When my dear friend, who was only 42, died of cancer last year, I felt grief, but it wasn’t especially devastating. In fact I felt some guilt because of that. Of course in his case, I had known for almost six months that his squamous cell carcinoma had proven to be unusually aggressive. The minute he told me they had found some new metastases just as he was finishing his last bout of chemo I knew he was probably going to die. I miss him quite a bit, but for some reason I don’t often get the “wait a minute–this can be right” feeling.

    A few years ago another friend, a man who was 70, developed the most deadly kind of leukemia. His chances of survival, especially at his age, was practically nil. I didn’t allow myself to accept that. As it happened, he had a very bad reaction to the first bout of chemo and died very suddenly only a couple of weeks after he was diagnosed. I was devastated. The world felt like it had come off its axis. It felt WRONG. How was it possible that Waynne was gone, that this world did not contain him? To this day, I feel a fresh burst of pain when I come across one of the reports he wrote.

    And yet my younger friend was actually closer to me. I have no idea why I have reacted in these disparate ways, but I have learned to accept that I feel what I feel and just deal with what ever that is.

  5. Tsu Dho Nimh says

    For so long now, Rick’s ringtone has meant, “Is this the call, the one telling me Dad is dead?” I wonder how long it’s going to take for that to change.

    Change the ringtone.

  6. Randomfactor says

    I’m trying to be kind to myself and not resist small comforts

    Best strategy you could follow, especially the first half.

  7. says

    I remember that feeling for a good while after my mom died. “Wait, what were the results of her last test? What are her levels?…oh, right.” I’d been spending mental energy on following her condition for so long (five years), that not doing this anymore felt odd. It felt like I was forgetting to check up on important things.

    It does go away eventually, but I can’t tell you exactly how long it will take.

  8. chakolate says

    I’m with Tsu Dho Nimh – change the ringtone.

    I also agree with those who say grief is odd – when my sister died at 42 I thought I had dealt with it. Yet over a year later I found myself pushing a shopping cart in the grocery with tears suddenly running down my face.

    It takes time, that’s all. Lots of time.


  9. johnthedrunkard says

    Thank you Greta. Please keep speaking/writing as you feel the need. My own recent loass has me stunned and I feel strange sharing it in conversation or rambling about it on facebook.

    Losses like these touch everything we are. I am glad to know I am not losing my mind. At least no more than you are.

    Love to Ingrid and the Mogs

  10. says

    When a favourite aunt died, some years back, my uncle, 5 years older than she had been, talked about her life. Afterwards, when I said my bit, I surprised myself by saying, “I have never known a world without Aunt C. in it.”

    I think that’s behind the total sense of wrongness that comes over me, occasionally; the feeling that this is not how things should be; the order of the universe has been disturbed by the death of my parents, my aunt.

    Our whole structured world falls apart when one of the foundational pillars is gone. It has to be rebuilt from the rubble; it will never be quite “right”.

  11. geocatherder says

    One thing you can do for your dad is to be a bit aggressive about funeral/memorial arrangements, so that whatever positive affect he had on his world will be remembered and appreciated. When my mother died, the service was officiated by a clueless asshole of a priest (her choice) and I left feeling like this complicated woman, who’d been a positive influence on many people’s lives, was laid to rest without really celebrating her positive influence. I had a conflicted relationship with her, but that didn’t mean I didn’t want the positive aspects of her life celebrated. Don’t let that happen to your dad.

    (Three years later when my dad died, I gave the eulogy myself. I screwed up the first time; I was not going to screw up again.)

  12. lcaution says

    When the phone rings these days, I jump too. Wondering if this is the one. Not parents, both gone. But a sibling. Know that doesn’t help you. Just my way of saying I understand.

  13. wscott says

    No matter what emotion I’m having, it seems to be accompanied by a self-conscious meta-emotion, feeling like whatever I’m feeling is wrong.

    Yes! That describes exactly how I’m feeling! (My dad died just a couple of weeks before yours.) I’ve never been one for navel-gazing and dwelling on my feelings – not saying that’s good or bad – but now every single thought I have is followed by “Is this because I’m grieving over dad? And if not, why not?”

    I admit it’s kinda weird to read my feelings coming out of someone else’s blog, but just wanted to let you know I’m finding it helpful. I hope that writing it is helping you too. Best wishes, and hang in there!

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