As my husband said last night, how bad does it have to be when a teen-age daughter complains that her parents are not paying enough attention to her? After two nights of bellowing and belligerence (beyond the norm), I called my eldest daughter over to me and said, “what’s the deal?” as nicely as I could.
“It just seems like I’m way down on the list of priorities for you and dad right now,” she said, without pouting, without shouting, without tears.
I couln’t do much more than acknowledge that she was right. That morning I’d spent a good portion of the hour-long shared commute, bemoaning to my trapped passenger the very issue of being out of balance right now between family, work, and other. I told my daughter she was right, told her that I’m still playing catch-up with work, church and home in the aftermath of my father’s illness and death and of her father’s back surgery. I told her what I’d told my husband last week as we had a pass-by snipe at each other. I said, we can recognize that this is an incredibly busy, stressful time right now and yell and argue our way into making it moreso, or we can give each other some room, some space to be crazy, and a little bit of kindness and make it just bearably stressful.
When I reminded her that she, too, has been very busy (being in the school play, being the manager of the track team, and going to work with her dad on Saturdays), she nodded and agreed.
Here’s the image that came to me in one of my few quiet moments this week. I suddenly felt the need to be shot out of a canon to catch up to my life, which seemed to have gone on without me these last few weeks, months. But then I had the image of my landing after being shot out of that canon, whereupon I landed face-down, with a grizzly thud and the sickening realization that in the moment I landed and pulled myself upright, my life would have continued on without me, requiring a repeat of the previous process.
I’m trying to figure out how to model grief for my girls, as I’m sure that much of this slowness, this indecisiveness, this inability-to-focus-ness is part and parcel of the grieving process. And still, I move forward…ish. And in trying to model the grief, I’m not letting them see the tears always at the inside corner of my eyes, but am letting the sadness eek through. This eldest daughter has said to me on occasion in the last few weeks, “Are you alright? You just look so sad.” She’s paying attention. “I am sad,” I say when she notices. “And I’m alright.”
I still don’t know how to do this and wonder does anyone. I am flabbergasted at how I am still taken aback by his death, as intellectually prepared for it as I was. But there are these moments that seize my heart to breaking. My daughter–still again the eldest–came to me one night as we had a house full of others and I saw she was upset so we went in my room to talk. “We played the song we did at the concert,” she said, “and I thought of Poppa …” and she fell into her tears. We had been at a school concert where each girl played the morning my father died.
Another day, my youngest said, out of nowhere, it seemed, “Debbie and I have one thing in common: we both only have one grandparent.” We were driving. Everyone else engaged her in follow-up conversation, I stared out the window thinking of another moment, the day before. I was in the laundry room and the girls were folding kitchen towels, napkins and placemats.
“Where’d we get these?” one child asked of the rarely-used white placemats.
“Grandma and Grandpa Brown gave them to me for my wedding,” I said, and suddently felt a sickness through my heart, as I thought of my own daughters’ weddings and those who will not be there.
A week or so before that, at an airport, I watched an elderly couple help each other through security. She who seemed to be barely able to stand herself, was helping him on with his jacket. And then she put her arm through his and they walked on, slowly, together. I felt, as I watched them, as I had when my girls were little and my mother-in-law died, when I saw a grandmother pushing a baby in a stroller as I drove the opposite way. This is what will not be, I thought. This will not be a part of their daily routines nor of their glorious days. This is what will not be, for them, for her, for us.
But what will be, I have to remind myself to look forward with hope, as I have no regrets about what has happened, only about what will never happen. I have to be reminded to look forward with the hope of what is, and stop living in the hoping of that which can never be.
I have to pull myself back to the now, to the moments when we are together as family, as individuals who love and sometimes even like each other. Have to pull myself back to the tasks at hand and let my grieving soul sail on ahead, stare at the tulips blooming in the yard even as a gray day provides the backdrop to the reds, the yellows, the pinks. Perhaps that’s it: I need to live in this gray place right now, while still paying attention, special attention, to those vivid spots of color that bloom firmly, yet briefly.
But it is the gray where I live, for now. It is a muted place, where my hearing is dulled as is my vision. Even taste and touch are affected by the grayness. My intellect, too, it would seem. Some will tell me to give it “time” and some days I can hear this without cringing. But if now is all we have and now is when I hurt then how does waiting help that, how does that help me NOW.
It will, I know. It will. And I’m quite certain that the grayness right now is in direct proportion to the heightened sensitivity of those last few weeks of my father’s life. Too many colors, too many sounds, too many tastes, too many touches. Overdosed, I suppose on the intensity of living while another is dying or recently gone.
So I’ll sit in this muted place being drawn back, inch by inch, into my former life by the residents therein, who need me, need my attention, and need to see the grayness lift, inch by slow inch.