My Dad died last weekend.
After a week of chemo, his blood was filled with infection and his lungs were pocked with pneumonia. He was hot to the touch and his heart ran ahead of us all. At two pm on Saturday, his body got tired of burning and his heart stumbled. He had a cardiac arrest and we held him as he left that white room with the cords and the masks and the doctors that scurried.
We cried. But we told him to go. We weren’t ready. But it didn’t matter.
I don’t know that it ever does.
That night, Riley and I held our daughters as we walked away from the front stoop of the house that still holds so much of my dad. He used to stand out there and wave and watch until we drove away. It was cold and I turned to say goodnight, forgetting he hadn’t followed us out. He’s gone ahead, I suppose. I got off the front steps as quickly as I could and then Zuzu looked to the sky.
“Mom, there aren’t any stars tonight.”
“You’re right, baby. There isn’t a damn star in the sky tonight.”
And then I held her against the darkness and ran to the car.
I am learning about grief.
It cuts and cools. It overwhelms and leaves emptiness. It laughs and cries. It is fear and faith. It is upward movement and a long fall to a dark place. It is eating me up and expanding my heart. It teaches and it scolds. It is what I owe the man that lit my sky, it is something he would take from me if he could. I knew it would hurt. I didn’t know I would be able to feel its sorrow in my bones, across the stretch of my skin and breaking against my insides. I didn’t know it would take the air from my lungs and the reason from my thoughts. I didn’t know I would long for an end to the harrowing and then feel guilty for the longing.
At my parent’s house in the hours after my dad died, Viola asked for a drink. I opened the fridge to get her milk and then gasped in pain. How could this food he’d bought be there when he wasn’t? How could my dad, the narrator of my life, be outlasted by a container of yogurt? Reactions like that, in their ridiculousness and suddenness, are the hardest part of my grief. It is without control and is often released by the most unworthy of subjects.
Dad didn’t even eat yogurt.
Today, I brushed the hair from the girl’s faces while we watched a movie. An ordinary moment, and then I could feel the flaying of the sadness against the fleshy parts of my heart. He is missing so much. My dad, the man who drank in every moment with his eyes and hugged us like it was the last time every time he held us, was missing everything. I was sure it was breaking his heart.
I cried and knew that I was holding his grief in my hands, too. Only, it doesn’t belong there. You can’t hold something that doesn’t exist.
There is no grief in going to meet Maker and immortal man. There is no sorrow in questions answered or the feeling of understanding your place in eternity. There is no great tragedy in becoming the man you were made to become. There is only joy.
His mom and dad were waiting for him in that space just beyond mortality. A mother and father that drank in every moment with their eyes and hugged like it was the last time every time they held him. He has mourned them since they left him as a fresh faced thirty year old with too many children and too few certainties. Just last month, I cried to him because I hated that he had no one to call when he wanted to hear a parent’s voice. He cried, too.
My breath was a bit less shallow and the wracking against my ribs not quite as sharp.
Death released him from grief.
And so mine became a little less hard to bear.