I’ve walked this road too many times. The seven stages of grief are a myth, and denial can last for years. The emptiness leaves me with a sadness that is big and overwhelming. There are no roadmaps here. Each death that has followed carries me back to my father, to a death that destroyed me in ways I am only beginning to understand.
There are no good deaths. I know my mother-in-law lived a long and full life, that she was ready to let go, but we are never ready. Numbness is not readiness. Resignation is not readiness. The fact that we can do nothing to prevent it only serves as a reminder that we know nothing, that we move through life on faith — regardless of whether that faith is anchored by God or the universe, we move forward because we have no choice, because to not move forward is not an option.
I am drawn to the water, to the waves and the wind and the rocky shore. I want to stand on the beach and feel the cold on my face. I want to look long in every direction and see nothing but surf and sand. This is my cathedral. It is the only place on this earth where I feel the presence of God. We left my father’s ashes in the surf 21 years ago. We held him in our hands and walked out into the waves. We were outlaws. Quietly and nervously following his wishes to the end. Three nautical miles. I will never forget. We weren’t even close.
The balance has shifted. In my immediate extended family we are more a family of spirits than living breathing beings. I envy my friends who have never lost a loved one, never experienced the crippling grief, the heartbreaking sadness. I want to un-know this kind of pain.
In the chapel at the gravesite Monday morning, under the bright lights reflecting off so much marble, I couldn’t help but wonder if my dead relatives were having a party. I tried to imagine them together, laughing and telling stories. But I don’t know what happens when we die. I think the imagery of heaven is meant to comfort us, but I don’t believe it is real.
My family has been separated by over 3,000 miles for close to 30 years now. My mother told me the other day that we’ve reached the point where I’ve lived away from her longer than I’ve lived near her. In that time, so many have gone — my dad, both of my grandmothers, my mother’s sister Margo, my Uncle Bob, both of my father’s brothers, my cousin Tina, my cousin Jannie, James’s Aunt Lee, my father-in-law, and my mother-in-law. The image of my loved ones together again in heaven is something I wish I could believe in. There are moments when I think it’s possible, but those moments are fleeting.
We don’t know what tomorrow will bring. Each day is a gift. I am reminded to spend my gift well. Every life event has the potential to become a turning point. Grief and sadness will fall in and out of my days in the weeks and months to come, but I will be reminded, too, to live. To follow my heart. To take a chance. To embrace the possibilities of this life. Because too soon, this too will be gone.