Monday, April 16, 2012

Walk it off and get in the boat. [Five years, today.]

Five years. Five years since he’s been gone.

Year one, my life was falling apart. I lost my faith in just about everything and it seemed like nothing would ever be the same again. And it wouldn’t. I wrote, “People would tell me, ‘You just can't understand the way God works. He has a plan.’ And I think that's bullshit. Bad things happen to good people, and there's nothing any of us can do about it, not even God.”

Year two, the shock had worn off and I was just sad. I missed him with a dull and constant aching that never faded away. I wrote, “I don't think it gets easier like they say it does. I feel like my life has stopped in it's place, but the world keeps going around me.”

Year three, life was moving on and I felt guilty. I had stopped thinking about him every minute of every day, not because I didn’t love and miss him terribly, but because it was too painful to keep opening that wound. In quite the opposite fashion of year two, I wrote, “The sadness, it doesn’t go away. And no matter what anyone says, it does not get any easier. But I put it away and pretend it isn’t there most of the time, and I sometimes realize how much it hurts and I cry and feel like life will never be the same, and it won’t. But life, it goes on.”

Year four, I was struggling to remember all the details. After suffering such a grand loss already, it felt like the universe was rubbing salt in my wound as his voice and face faded more and more from my memory. I decided to make an oath of sorts, to him and to myself. I wrote, “I hope he knows I love him and I miss him and I think about him so, so often. In memory of you, Dad. I promise to never forget.”

Year five. Here we are. Doctors and scientists and professors say there are stages of grief. Some say five. Some say seven. I say, grief is a cycle. I have felt anger and shock and unbearable pain and guilt and peace, and I have felt each of them over and over again.

A friend of mine lost his father as well, and his mother wrote about spending time at the beach grieving. As she put it,

“I felt safe in the dark as I sat looking upward into the heavens as they overtook my sense of loneliness. I was not alone; I was being loved by God through the beauty of His creation. The song the waves played as they pushed toward the shoreline soothed me like a mother’s lullaby. I heard an unevenness in the wave song as some make a louder crack sound at times. It was here I realized what I had been saying was true, mourning comes in waves. Some waves crack harder than others, it is the motion of life. I find myself crying harder at times, sometimes less, and sometimes not at all. There is no guilt in the amount of tears and there is no set pattern. Everyone is different. Every wave is different.”

(As an aside, they should really give this woman a book deal. No one can put it into words like she can.)

In a most eloquent way, she describes the grief cycle as I have experienced it. Some moments are harder than others. The grief is constant but life is always moving. Waves come and go and the only way to cope is to ride them out.

I spent yesterday, a beautiful and perfect Sunday, on Jordan Lake. This was an impromptu fishing trip my friend’s husband came up with. We woke up nursing slight hangovers from Saturday night’s bonfire party and Chris thought it would be relaxing to spend the day fishing in the sun. We loaded up coolers and tackle boxes, put gas in the boat, and hit the lake. We joked around and cracked ourselves up and caught a total of two tree branches and nothing else. The sun started to set and we were all a little tired. We fished a little longer (still caught nothing) and in between a few bits of quiet conversation, there was only sunset and the sounds of the water lapping against the boat and the shore. I felt such peace.

As we were heading back to the dock, I told my friends what I knew. How this was the day before the anniversary of my dad’s death. How I used to come to this particular lake on this particular day to think about my dad. How I found it ironic that, one day before the anniversary, people who never knew my father decided we should spend our time on the same lake doing the same thing he loved to do. Chris said it was like a tribute to my dad, and I couldn’t agree more.

My dad was never one for tears. Even being the father of four girls didn’t soften him up in that regard. Crying was for the weak, and he could be heard telling his girls to “walk it off” or “dry it up” anytime we started the waterworks. So I know he wouldn’t have wanted me to sit on the side of the lake, crying to myself. Here is what I think he would tell me: Walk it off and get in the boat.

Life moves on. The grief never does. Both are like the waves. Some moments are harder than others. Some waves will wash over your feet like a healing touch, others will knock you to the ground and pull you under. Climb in your boat and ride them out, the good ones and the bad ones. Let friends and family and memories hold you afloat. Experience the pain and you will feel the peace that follows. “It is the motion of life.”

You are alive, so live.

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