How to grieve

I have said this before – I have no idea how to grieve. I don’t even know what to feel or think about how I feel or what I think at the moment. Somehow I feel that my grief is not “as bad” as that of some other people I know. My friend’s partner committed suicide – a beautiful, successful man in the prime of his life, gone. My aunt’s family – she was run over by a truck in front of her husband. From a happily retired couple to a family in raw grief. On the one hand I feel so blessed – my Father lived an incredibly full life right up to the day he had his stroke. He did not suffer, he had no pain, he was surrounded by the people (and dog) who loved him. He transitioned so peacefully.
Grieving is a way of celebrating and honouring the Life of the person. That makes sense to me. Well, sort of. It is not that I want my Father back, that I feel cheated, that I have unfinished business, that I feel I missed out. It was not like we spoke on the phone every day sharing stories. He always called me when he went biking, almost like he was “reporting” in. In December I stayed with my Mom for the week that he went riding. He deeply appreciated it, and said so. We somehow knew where we stood with each other. In 54 years I never had an argument with my Father. That is not to say that we never disagreed. We just never argued or fought about our differences.
At the life celebration I said that as a child I often wished that I had an “ordinary” Father, and I know that my Dad often wished he had an “ordinary” son. In many respects I took on a fathering role for my parents, which both him and I resented in a way. Yet, that was the way the dice fell. I took care of them. I suppose the confusing part is that while I am so at peace with the fact that my Father died, I am so aware of the big gaping hole that his transition has left in our lives. Literally – a big hole, an empty space. Like a house without furniture, one is suddenly aware of the emptiness, the hollowness. You see the bare walls where all the memories were hanging, now just a nail in the wall, faded paint around the outline of the memory.
I keep on looking at his photographs. I grew up with these photographs. They were hanging in my grandparent’s home all those years that we visited them. Thanks to Facebook we scanned them and used them to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. Now it feels as if I am seeing them for the first time in 54 years, maybe because they now represent not him in person, but his memory. Suddenly I am aware of how good looking he was, how tall…
In hospital I put my hand on his chest to feel his heartbeat. I was amazed at how firm his pectoral muscles were – must be from holding the handlebars on his bike. I held his hand, looked at how well manicured his nails were. I remember how he came from word every day, spending the first half an hour cleaning up. As a mechanic his hands were always rough, but perfectly clean after he scrubbed them with a special cleaning agent and cleaned his nails. Every evening.
Now that his physical presence is no longer here, it is the memories of him that are present. I cannot help but wonder how much my Mother remembers about him, about their life together. To lose him and the memory of him must be so terrible.
I held his hand, possibly for the first time in my adult life. The first day after the stroke he could still squeeze my hand with his right hand. The left side was paralyzed. I put his left hand in mine. It felt warm, calloused. He worked with his hands all his life. He wrote with a fountain pen – an elegant script. I Remember that I liked his signature on my school report. It looked neat and professional. He was a mechanic. The hands that could hit a golf ball on a single handicap, hold a fishing rod, ride a bike through rough terrain, drive a lorry and front end loader. Give a moerse hiding. These hands lay lifeless in mine. Lifeless but warm.
The intimacy of death.

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