Death is like an arrow that is already in flight, and your life lasts only until it reaches you. ~ George Hermes
Is every grieving the death of a loved one different? Or are we different each time a loss visits us?
When my brothers, Jim and Dan, died 4 years ago, I felt like part of my heart had been ripped out. The grief I experienced recently when my father died was felt mostly in my gut, as though I had been punched in the stomach and left with a sick sinking hole. Several of my siblings expressed at the funeral that they felt like they had a stomach flu.
Some of my recent symptoms of grief feel familiar, but some are different. With both, I felt identity confusion. After losing Jim and Dan, I wondered why I lived in Virginia, when they were buried in the Massachusetts town we all grew up in, in the very cemetery we played in as kids. I mourned the loss of my childhood as much as I missed my brothers.
The identity crisis I'm experiencing with the loss of my dad is less about where I live and more about who I am. Who am I without a father? Who is my mother without my father? Who am I to my mother now? Can I let go of the burden my dad carried that all his kids shared the weight of, the burden of seeing the Holocaust first hand, WWII combat trauma, and his battle with alcoholism?
There is a sense of calmness (or is it numbness) along with my sadness that I wasn’t able to feel when Jim and Dan died. Is it because my dad lived for 81 years and had been drifting away from us before the accident that led to his death? Since the deaths of his sons, and especially during this last year, he sometimes seemed to be going through the motions of life more than living them. “He did everything he wanted to,” my mother recently said to me on the phone.
The loss of a parent can shake our sense of security, identity, and foundation. But unlike losing a sibling, child, spouse, or a parent prematurely; losing an older parent is something we’re conditioned to expect. We know life ends, just as we know the day will end when the sun goes down. As hard as losing a parent is, we don’t have to feel alone in it. It’s something we all have in common or will someday.
I’ve only begun to absorb the impact of not having my dad in this world, but I’m grateful that I feel more in control of my grief this time around. At least today, I do.
Post notes: Icy path to the driveway illuminated by the setting sun. Originally posted on looseleafnotes.com on December 14, 2005.