Six Months: On Adjusting to Grief

September 16, 2017

I don’t know where the phrase “good grief” came from but I’ve yet to find the good in it. My dad has been gone nearly 6 months now and the grief hangs off of my shoulders like a backpack. A really ugly, marker stained, overloaded with math books, bookbag. I never liked math.

I’m a huge believer in introspection. The ability to reflect and make meaning of the things we’ve done and the things that have happened to us is the only way that we can grow and begin to approach some level of happiness. Each time in my life that I’ve felt regret I’ve worked through it by thinking about my actions and what I knew at the time. In most cases, even when I screwed up, I was really doing the best I could with what I had. That’s one of the things that has helped me along this journey. Because guilt and regret are the cousins of grief.

I really fought myself internally about sharing the dim corners that grief has left in my world. But I know I’m not alone. And what I’m experiencing isn’t unique. Among my friends, more than one has lost at least one parent and we’ve yet to turn 40. That’s troubling. This world is a stressful place, particularly for people of color. And I wonder now if environmental racism plays into some of these early losses of life. But that’s another blog for another day. Stay tuned for that.

For now, falling asleep has become a strange task. I feel tired after working all day and then taking care of my children. But when I get into my bed, sleep escapes me. Some of the issue is me. I do Millennial things like take a cell phone to bed with me. I’m working on that, I promise. Before I know it, two hours have passed and I’m still sitting in bed, feeling an awake kind of tired that is new for me. In the past I turned off my phone at night. But since the first time my father was hospitalized I began to leave it on all night. He’s gone now and I don’t have to worry about a phone call induced frenzy. But now my mother is living alone, so I leave the phone on in case she calls. That’s the thing with caregiving. When it ends in the death of a parent you think you’re done worrying. Instead you transfer the worry to your living parent because they represent the last piece of a root that is deeply planted in you.

We’re slowly sorting through things, mom and I. It’s not easy. Literally every object tells a story. One that relates back to my dad. He left a little bit of himself all around. There have been other times when loved ones have died and I’ve experienced the misfortune of forgetting. Of picking up the phone to dial them or thinking I’ve seen them out somewhere. And having to remind myself that they’re gone. Not this time though. I don’t forget.

I fear forgetting my father. It’s not logical but it’s real, especially if you ever met my father. He was the kind of person you’d remember forever even if you’d only met him once. He had a way of cementing himself into the minds of everyone he met. It’s upsetting because he was the type of person you’d never expect to die. We all know someone like that. As I reflect, I can feel his impatience, his mean insistence on being heard and understood. And remembered.

So how am I moving through it? I’m not sure yet. It’s a process that you navigate depending on how you feel each day. Each moment. You get to change your approach. You get to do it your way. Me? I listen to a lot of music. I watch Insecure and I’m looking forward to the premiere of This Is Us. I’m writing as much as my time permits. I tickle my children just to hear them laugh. I give myself permission to close my office door at work sometimes and just. be. still.

This week I peeled myself off of my office chair and went for a long walk. Walking isn’t as comfortable as it used to be for me. My last pregnancy was extremely difficult and I had no choice but to limit my physical activity. I spent a lot of time sitting or laying down when I was at home. I learned to do a whole bedtime routine for my toddler from my bed. In that time though, my muscles paid the price. That, combined with the physical changes that naturally occur after giving birth, have morphed my body into a new thing. It needs adjusting. It needs movement, which is very hard for me to do where I work. So I’ve committed to going outside the building for movement. I had no idea how much better it would make me feel. Endorphins. I forgot about those. They make you feel good.

Not only did my walks give me some time away from electronics and beige office walls, but they gave me an uninterrupted view of the neighborhood and the people in it. I thought about a lot of things like how much unused space there is on Chicago’s South and West Sides. And I thought about how much people try to differentiate these two parts of the city, when they’re sadly a lot alike. The histories differ in terms of how black people came to these areas and how they lived (to some degree). But today, the same kinds of social problems seen in one area, affect the other as well. I’ve worked on the West Side for nearly ten years now, so I’ve seen a lot of spaces that have been developed, and a lot that have laid dormant. I’m ready to move on though. Everyday, on my way to and from work, I pass two places: The hospital where my children were born and their lives began, and the hospital where I was told my father would die and his life would end. It’s tragically poetic.

I’m grieving but I’m driven. I understand that all roads have led to this point, even the one I was traveling along when my father died. If he were alive, he would tell me that it doesn’t matter what I’ve done in the past. That it only matters what I will do now.

What I will do now is to heal and to prosper and to grow. And if I need to turn my back on the world for an hour or two that’s what I’ll do.

Six months feels like forever and yesterday though.

Take Care,

D. Southern

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