One loss does not prepare you for another.
My father passed away last week. He was 77 years old. He had a pacemaker, a bevy of unhealthy habits, and an assortment of health issues. And none of that made his loss any less surprising when it finally came.
Since losing Ev, I’ve thought many times about what losing someone else would be like now that she was gone. And I ultimately came to two conclusions. It would be both easier and harder. Easier because nothing can feel like the utter implosion of your world and everything in it the way child loss does. And harder, because grief is cumulative. Because every person we lose now is taking another little piece of Ev with them. Because the people we have left are our comfort, they are all that stands between us and a despair so unfathomable it could snuff us in an instant like a weak candle. Because broken hearts love hardest and I have lost my taste for goodbyes.
Not even a week later, I can say that I was right. It is all of those things and more. But knowing it and feeling it are two very different experiences. I knew it then. I feel it now.
My dad’s passing was soft and quiet, a gentle release that is felt like one part joy for him and two parts sorrow for us. I can’t say we left things unsaid or undone. I do not mourn the years he had left as the best to come. I understand that he left at a time and in a way that would be to his liking. And I can feel gratitude for that even as I wish he was still here with me.
His loss lacks all the sickening, soul-splitting impact that Ev’s carried. It is the biggest difference of all, the lack of trauma, and it has made me more aware of how absolutely, devastatingly final her death was, how far-reaching in its destruction, like a tornado spread across miles. Trauma is the stone fist wrapped inside the blow of loss. A hit that reverberates through your remaining years, ready in a rare moment of peace to strike again, so that you can never be free of the horror, you can never simply grieve.
I will not mourn my dad this way, the way that I mourn Ev. I will not mourn him with aftershocks and flashbacks. I will not mourn him with nightmares and the image of his lifeless face living eternally behind my eyes. I will not mourn him with shreds of my soul, as a new being, I never wanted to be. But I will mourn him with a broken heart. I will mourn him with stolen tears in quiet moments when a sunbeam in my garden reminds me of the twinkle in his eyes, or a songbird on the deck has me looking up its name in the book he gifted me. I will mourn him over cups of coffee and cold beers and warm fires. I will mourn him over tall tales and under tall trees and in every season nature chooses to delight me with. I will mourn him in the way we are designed to mourn, prepared to mourn. Because his loss came in a way that is according to the natural order, rather than in a way that reshapes my understanding of how the universe works.
I will add my tears for him to the tears I shed daily for my daughter. I will know this grief, not as something new, something different than yesterday, something for me to carry for a while and set down, walking away grief free. Instead, I will know it as a continuance of the day before and the day before that. As the feelings that are on my mind when I lay down each night and on my heart when I wake each morning. As the swell of love within me that I pour out into the void, hoping it courses a path to the beloved and feeds their spirit where they are waiting for me to join them. I will know this grief as a part of my grief for Ev, and I will now know Ev’s grief as a part of my grief for my dad because somewhere in the heart they join and become impossible to separate.
I have added my father’s picture to our ancestor table next to Evelyn’s. When I talk to ghosts now, I include him in the conversation. I ask him to hold my baby girl for me, to keep her safe, to make her laugh, just as I asked Evelyn to show him the way when I heard he’d left us for good. I take a little comfort in knowing they are together. And I feel a little envy that he gets to be with her first. And that is the way of a grieving parent who is also a grieving child.
My dad was my last parent living. I’ve said goodbye more times than I care to think about. And with each person that passes, there seems to be less and less holding me here. I work—hard—at staying anchored, for my living children, for my husband, for the work I have yet to do that I am told I must complete before I can let go. But more and more, I look toward my own death with a feeling of fondness and gratitude that many living people wouldn’t understand. It hurts to be stretched between two worlds. I will miss him terribly, but I’m glad my dad no longer knows that pain.
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