I recently moved into my grandparent’s house, about half a year after my Papaw passed and my Mamaw was moved to an assisted living facility. The house is a member of the family itself, being the place where my mom was raised, and the place where my sister and I had the ultimate daycare as children. The house had been everything to she and I, from a palace where we had Kool Aid tea parties with extra sugar, to a grocery store with fake groceries, to our own doll babysitting club. As we got older, it became a place of refuge from our busy lives, difficult decisions, and the struggles of growing up.
When I decided to move in, I wasn’t sure I would be able to do it. Everywhere I looked contained a memory, a hug, or a piece of advice peeking around the corner. I decided that to be able to live in the space that indeed was the second home of my childhood, I would need to make a few changes. I did. My family and I took to painting the walls, moving some furniture, hanging up new pictures, getting new furniture, all to create a home of my own. It worked, or so I thought.
The other morning, I woke up, and my first thought was: “Oh, I forgot I stayed the night with mamaw and papaw. Where’s Cathryn? (I reached for her beside me; we always shared a room when we would stay the night.) I wonder if mamaw is cooking breakfast and if papaw is watching tv. I need to get up and go see-”
Then it hit me. Hard. Devastatingly hard.
As true reality set in, I cursed the fact that I had to wake up in this new, alternate reality, a reality full of grief and hollowness and longing for what I can never have again. I was mad at my brain for tricking me so easily into believing that I was a kid again, sharing another morning with my grandparents, and I was mad at my heart for allowing me to forget that papaw was gone.
I have never felt disappointment like that before. I have never felt my heart go from day to night that fast, not even when I actually lost him.
It was kind of like the opposite of waking up from a nightmare. When you have a nightmare, you wake up, so grateful to be out of the situation you thought you were in.
This time, when I woke up, I longed to go back to the dream, back to the days I loved as a kid and that adorn my heart like fine jewels in a crown.
But I can’t. We can’t. None of us ever can.
You know, after losing someone, it doesn’t seem like things will ever get better. You kind of accept the fact that things won’t be the same, but you hope to at least be able to function normally again, without tears sneaking out of your eyes or scents making you flash back to people you can no longer hold in your arms. The grief you have felt, and felt, and felt yet again, seems to become your closest companion.
Grief-the mere connotation of the word itself brings thoughts of sorrow and feelings of sadness that seem to rush up out of nowhere, wrapping you in a suffocating hug, clinging like a straight jacket of despair. I have waded deeper in the ocean of grief this past year than I ever have, not only grieving for the loss of my loved one, but grieving with so many others who have lost their loved ones.
I didn’t realize initially that when we lose someone very close to us, we lose a piece of our entire life. It’s not just the person who goes, but the feelings of happiness or contentment associated with that person go too, along with traditions and visits that you never knew were such an integral part of your life. For me, it’s the loss of cantaloupe eating on the front porch; late evening visits where the porch light stays on till you get home, just to light the way for you; watching Walker Texas Ranger and court shows; being asked three times if you had enough to eat; listening to stories of childhoods I never experienced.
I have learned grief and love are very similar. They both shatter allusions, fill our hearts, overwhelm us, and manipulate our emotions. They both make their presence known to all of us, attaching themselves to us in the wildest ways, regardless of race, religion, or socioeconomic status. They both create longing in our hearts, and they both capitalize on strong feelings for those we care about.
I wonder if that’s why grief is such a powerful force. It’s like loving someone twice-once as they live this life with you, and then again when you live your life without them, loving them almost more because they aren’t there to feel and see your love in action. You can’t prove it to them anymore; you have to hope that they knew and still know how much they mean to you.
Grief therefore is a bittersweet feeling, a circle of continuity in regard to our acceptance of what was and what now is. It is knowing that you had an amazing person in your life, while also accepting that the person you loved so dearly is gone, but then remembering how grateful you are to have had that person, while simultaneously wishing he or she was still here.
A year later, and this is where I am in the grieving process. The highs of memories and the lows of realizations cycle through my mind and heart regularly.
I read a quote recently that said to keep the best qualities of the people we have lost in ourselves, in order to not only keep their memories alive, but to honor who they were. What a beautiful thought that is!
No, it doesn’t take away the pain or the discontentment that has ruffled the plans of our lives and shadowed our happiness with a veil of grief. It doesn’t make everything “okay,” nor does it fill the hole in our hearts. It doesn’t put things back together for us, and it will never replace what we lost. But it is something. It’s something better than living in the past, dwelling on the way things used to be, or painfully longing for something that will never be the same. It is SOMETHING. Sometimes one something can be the first step to healing, like the first ray of sun after a cold, dark, seemingly endless night.
So for me, I will remember my papaw and the legacy he left for me by trying to be like him. Slow to anger. A steady friend. A faithful believer. A peaceful leader. A hard worker. A generous giver. A sincere helper. A good person.
Maybe if we all can honor our missing loved ones this way, we can make a world that feels like they never left us.
Love and blessings,