Death is simple.
The last breath is quiet. It only takes a moment. And then it’s over.
But to those who have gone through it, it’s not as simple as it looks–not really. It shatters and destroys and devastates those surrounding it. It forms a dark pit that sits like a silent, heavy passenger. Death is simple, but living without the one death took is not.
Two years ago today I was sitting by my Dad as he struggled to breathe. He was barely conscious and little did I know that I’d have maybe two more days left before he closed his eyes and slept until his heart would stop.
Two years ago Christmas was dark. The lights, the nativity, the familiar carols on the radio fell a little flat. The snow wasn’t as beautiful–it was just cold. Nothing mattered because my Dad was sick. In my mind, nothing would really matter the same way again. I remember how that hole felt and my eyes mist over if I trace the memory footstep by footstep, feeling his hand again and watching the sun rise and set as if nothing was changing.
I remember that girl but I am not that girl today.
And I think it’s worth telling this side of the story; the side that often doesn’t get told because once someone passes through the thick of the grief, there doesn’t seem to be much to write about anymore. But perhaps the most important lesson in it all, and the lesson in which I’m learning every day, is that it gets better. It really does.
To the mom who is watching cancer take her child; to the dad who’s soldier didn’t make it home. To the child who had to stand at the funeral of her parent and to the person who had to say goodbye to a best friend–you have been so heavy on my heart. I have cried your tears, even if they are much different, and I have touched the gravestone.
I have cried into a cold pillow and I have stared blankly at a sad Christmas tree. I have felt what holidays feel like with an empty seat at the table and pictures of their smiles still on the wall. I have sat in a full bustling room with laughter and chatter and have had a wave of sadness take me by its talons and make me feel alone. Grief feels endless. And to be honest, I don’t think it ever completely goes away. There will be days when it will hit you out of nowhere and bring you to your knees, and then there will be days where you laugh again–one of those belly laughs–and you fall asleep on a dry pillow. Grief is a funny thing, but it gets you to where you need to be– and that is right here.
This Christmas I was surprised when I realized I had decorated the tree and had listened to the carols without stopping to gain control of my emotions. I had even found the ornament my Dad had left for me before he died and placed it on a limb, smiling gently to my surprise. I miss my Dad. I wish he were coming for Christmas this year to see my new house and to pet my new puppy and to give me advice about home repairs. I wish I could show him my recent photography and hear what he has to say. I wish I could hear him laugh one more time in that goofy way he used to do as he slapped at his leg, and I wish we could plan trips and have him dramatically fawn over my cooking like no one ever has since.
I miss my Dad. But I know I belong here where I am–and it has gotten better. My heart, scars and all, beats a little bit stronger. Yours will too.
It’s hard to hear it now, and I bet you’re even a little bit mad at me to read it because it feels impossible to ever get past the point of complete and utter loneliness. How do you repair a shattered mirror? It’s just one piece at a time. The cracks won’t go away. You won’t feel the same or be the same or even look the same in the way your eyes move or your smile turns. You will forever be different because of the loss you suffered. And that is okay.
In only two years I have experienced the worst pain of my life so far and in return I’ve been able to experience the redemptive power of choosing to get out of bed, one foot in front of the other, until little by little it’s easier to laugh and I’m quicker to understand and empathize with those who are hurting. I’ve been able to see the effects my Dad has had on my life, long after he left it, and the way I’ve become a little more like him every day just because I remember him and carry him with me. I’ve become stronger and more resilient. I’ve pursed passions I wouldn’t have the guts to pursue before. I can dance to Jingle Bell Rock in my kitchen in my pajamas again and remember the way he spun me around when I still had pigtails; I can put my ornament on the tree and actually smile–and that’s because of the last two years.
It will get better. You will get a little bit stronger. A song they loved will come on the radio and instead of turning it off, you will turn it up. Someday, you will see their pictures and laugh at a funny memory behind it instead of cry. And one of these days, you will lay down in bed, and sleep will come easy.
So don’t give up. Don’t write off Christmas or swear off the family get-togethers. The place you’re in is not a place to stay. Although the pain will always be real, you will rise above one day at a time, and I promise you–
Mourning will end and the morning will come.