Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Grief Pygmies

When your Dad dies, things happen like stabs out of nowhere. Like blowdarts through the window from little invisible pygmies. It happened to me this morning, and instead of cleaning the kitchen, I have decided to write about it in search for more clarity, more understanding of what this thing grief, this thing death, is.

A few years ago, at the family reunion right after my Dad died, John, Dad's cousin, sat me down and beautifully recounted some of his best memories of Dad. He ended saying, "when someone we love goes beyond this life, we keep reaching, beyond the grave for that relationship, for that person, and though they are dead, that relationship still grows with each new understanding of who they are."

Today, I was pulling Harper's tights up over her sweet little booty, and reached down to straighten that pesky toe seam that always ends up vertical instead of horizontal, and WHAM. It happened. I nearly missed that imp, that pygmy with the blowdart. He hit me right where it counts and the crack in my everyday armor split wide open. Of course I didn't recognize it for what it was at first. I just stormed around the house mad at everything and Seth in particular for all those dumb things you get mad at when you are deflecting your pain. But for some reason, straightening that vertical seam on Harper's tiny foot kept coming back to me, frozen in time. And I realized that I was Harper and my Dad was me 33 years ago, and he was straightening my tights so that the seam went horizontally over my toes. I was in his lap and he was concernedly and anally perfecting my two-year-old hosiery.

And I am undone.

Damn you, grief pygmies.

When my Dad died three years ago, he hadn't been a part of my everyday life for several years. Sure, we talked on the phone a few times a month, and I flew out to see him a few times a year, but his presence was psychological, not physical, for the most part, and I was fine with that. It took me at least a month to cry after the funeral, and the grief process seemed to be in slow motion. But every time I get hit with one of these moments, these stabs out of oblivion, I am thrown into accelerated grief, and feel sort of guilty: "What is wrong with me? Why am I feeling all of this emotion? It's been three years, aren't we finished with this?"

I guess all I can see through this is that when your Dad dies, the unravelling, the understanding, the weight of his influence, his role, his personhood is far too much for anyone to work through. Even in a lifetime.

A dear friend of mine says that to love someone is to understand them. Love and understanding are interchangeable. There were huge swaths of misunderstanding and unknowing in my earthly relationship with my Dad. This reaching out beyond the grave, this yearning for understanding of my Dad is love. And I can imagine him now, on the other side, now in the arms of Perfect Love, now reaching back, now understanding.