The trouble with grief is it never really lets you go. No matter how much you’ve moved on, or how many tears you’ve cried, grief will show up in the most unexpected places.
I lost my father nearly six years ago. Six years seems like a really long time. Even thinking about it now it feels like a lifetime ago. I should be over it, but the more days that accumulate between myself and his death the more I realize this grief will never really go away. I cry on his birthday, on Father’s Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Every four years I cry during World Cups. I cry when Bill Wither’s “Lean on Me” plays in a restaurant as background music. I cry when I think of him missing my wedding. I cry at countless tiny things that remind me of him and the things that he loved. I cry when I am lying in bed at night simply because he’s gone and he’s never coming back. And sometimes I cry when I realize the few precious memories I have of him are fading. Which is why I hold onto them like a greatest hits album, replaying them over and over again in my head. But his face gets a little fuzzier, the feeling of him a little further and then I realize I can’t even remember the last conversation I had with him.
I lost my dad when I was 25, but the reality is, because he was so sick for so long I really lost him when I was in high school. No one told me at the time that his mind would go. That every poet, book, philosopher and scripture he had committed to memory would vanish. That his quick wit and dry tongue would be a thing of the past. That he’d live in a land of delusions, a walking nightmare filled with fire-starting leprechauns, alien creatures, and villainous monsters telling him to do bad things. After he was committed and placed in hospice he simply withered away. For eight long years he lived in a world that was not ours. A world that, from my perspective, seemed terrifying. One time we sat in the cafeteria of his hospital talking crazy. He told me about trips he never took to lands that weren't real with people who never lived. The rolling hills of Escondido stared back at us signifying a life he was no longer a part of. Then, the fog suddenly lifted from his eyes and in a brief moment of clarity he looked at me and said, “Taryn, what's wrong with me? Please, I don’t want to die.” His eyes pleaded for me to help him, but of course I couldn't. My heart shattered into a million pieces that never quite came back together.
That might be the last line he ever spoke to me. But who really knows if it was him or not? A couple years later, when he was especially bad off, I visited before leaving for a trip. I whispered into his ear “You were a good dad” and kissed him on the forehead. In retrospect it felt like a kiss goodbye -- and it was. I returned two weeks later and the morning I was to drive to the hospice center to see him, I got the call he had died. When I saw the body his face was contorted, mouth agape, like he was screaming. When I think of his pain and sorrow and struggle I can’t help but be overcome by sadness. And when I think of the dad I lost, the memories I try so hard to hold onto that just keep slipping through my fingers, I can’t help but grieve. I grieve for his pain and for mine. For his life and the life he missed.
This is not to say that grief has taken over. Oh, no. Life goes on and grief is aware of its unwelcome presence. Knowing this grief will often lie dormant for weeks, months, even years. But then, all of the sudden lying alone in my bedroom, staring at the ceiling I feel it come for me, for no reason at all. No birthday or holiday or special song. This is grief’s slippery speciality, showing up when you least expect it. And that’s when I cry the most. It’s a hard cry. The kind of cry where tears flood from your eyes as if you’ve never cried a day in your life. It’s in this moment that you realize death is final and grief is forever. But maybe that’s okay, because for someone to be grieved it means they were loved. And he was loved.