After our son was born I called friends who already had kids and apologized to them for not being more excited for them when they became parents. I didn’t know until I saw our own son how awesome it was. How could I?
I did the same after my father passed. I called friends who had already lost a parent and apologized for not being more sympathetic for them at the time. How could I have known?
And then I became acutely aware of the grieving of others. A mention of a loss or a diagnosis stops time and puts me back in the moment when I heard the news. The news that changed things. While a smell can take your mind back to summer camp just a few words arranged in the right order can transport your heart back the same way. The day I heard the news. How I held it together for a few minutes and then cried on the shoulder of the first person I saw. I didn’t know her too well but she was older and could see it in my eyes. She was part of the club.
That’s the club you join when a parent dies. A club that every human throughout existence who has outlived a parent has joined but yet it can still can feel like a party of one. While you are told many cliches when you are in the fog of it the one that is never overused is the one that comes from a club member. “I know what you are going through.”
The thing about grief is that it comes out of nowhere. Sure there are the moments that come up that you’d really like to share with them. There are the moments when a question arises in which the answer literally has been taken to the grave and you will never know the answer. But then there are the surprise moments when your mind hits an infinite loop of a memory. You lock in for a bit. My mental record skips and that last note is played over and over again. Luckily, my soundtrack is full of great songs.
For me my mind will stumble on a memory and it will replay in my head as if I was there again. I think it’s memory’s survival strategy. My brain is making a back-up rewriting it a few times to ensure it sticks even as my record gets scratched with age. In many of these flashbacks, I’m the only one alive who knows the story now and I think my brain is ensuring it doesn’t fade away.
I think I’ve been good with this. I don’t think I’m callous or avoidant or unengaged. I think I’m good. I think being there with him when he needed me most and being able to say goodbye has allowed me to look forward and cherish the memories. It has allowed me to carry his lessons of fatherhood into my own family.
Watching my seven year old and remembering my times with my dad when I was that age have helped me look to the future. The memories I will make for my boy. To etch those into his permanent record.
Being a father to my dad’s grandson has helped me grieve.