Two Days Roll into One

Saturday, March 05, 2011

(Some days become two days, even three when I am processing my life experience. Writing often needs time to percolate. The intense feeling that arose after a day of family visits was unexpected. I like the idea of connecting these two days of entries into one longer post since the thoughts have been ongoing.)

What a day – Friday.

From 2:00 until 9:30 pm there was company. Rusty, from Group Health, was by for an hour with a frank discussion about death. Then the family began arriving. Dana, from Marysville. Leah. Dawn. Richard. Denise. Stories, laughter, dinner, family. Being present; in the moment. A good time was had by all.

Now, exhaustion, emotional tiredness, has arrived with the day. The real work begins now. Reflection.

I started to tell the tales here but I don’t need to; they were recorded. Fun and new memories are being made, family ties strengthened, and stories relived, but in (psychologist Erik) Ericksonian terms we are “redetermining the past.”  That’s work. The work of grief. The work of life and maturity. The work between parent and child, or between siblings. The work needed to make sense and meaning from the past. Today, Dave and I made small talk on what we heard and seek insight into the past. We are both very tired.

Each spoken perspective, especially those of former teenage girls as this is the time period the stories surrounded, give the adult child and parent a peek backwards. There was a lot of “as I remember it.” The details don’t matter for telling this story. It is the reflection of the stories that will be important to the individuals. I know that Dave is learning things about his children he had not known. One of my favorite college educational take away seems to ring true: Freud said “the past determines the present”; and Erickson responded,  “the present redetemines the past.” Indeed.

I wonder if there is a honeymoon period in the unfolding of life stories between relatives confronted with death. There is great joy in meeting, sharing and learning about each other on a new level of listening. But will the heavy baggage come out? Not all memories are joyous. There is pain, misunderstanding and many viewpoints for each event. Every family has its skeletons in the closet or dysfunction along with times that bring them together. This is, after all, human development, the circle of life and death.

What occurs to me is that we are in an ideal situation. (Most of us are.) Dave is now the elder. He is a teacher. He is willing to talk. He is dying in the right order. No children have gone before him. He has time to share. Family is near and accessible. Everyone has grown and experienced many years of living, raising children and in partnerships. There is enough life lived to bring a richness of understanding and likely forgiveness.

Except for one. My Leah. Our Leah. She gets cheated of the time her half-siblings have had with their father. Or so it seems. She has had a different father, mother and life than they had.  There cannot be logical comparisons for they grew up differently; apple and oranges. She is still young, although an adult. She hasn’t lived long enough for this to be the right order for her. There are too many things that will not occur for her: no father to walk her down the aisle; no grandpa Dave reading Mother Westwind; no beaming dad when she graduates college.

As a course of life, I think we just don’t know what we know until we have the experience. We have to live many years to gain understanding. Lessons cannot be hurried. I suppose a mother will always feel worst for her children.

This is the rollercoaster of grief.

* * *

Dave told me a story I had never known before. Yesterday morning he said he was “cloudy.” He was giving me his weather report. The reference is that he would sometimes in seminar have the students give a “weather report” in order to gather the feeling for the group’s mood. I didn’t know he did that! Washington State has interesting weather that can change quickly… sunny, scattered showers, foggy, cloudy, sunbreaks, overcast, misty…  Dave was cloudy. I’m reminded of the “pea soup” fog that used to be more prevalent when I first moved here. I’m in pea soup fog today.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Yesterday was a tough day for me. Leah and Scott came by for dinner. She was in a great mood. I am always glad to see her happy. That was helpful.

Forecast (me): Scattered showers.

I’m feeling better today, this morning. I awoke with the important revelation of the weekend: When all is said and done (This phrase takes on more meaning, huh?) I will come home to an empty house while the rest of the family will go home to predominantly the same life they have now. Yes, they will be without their father, but I will be without my husband. Everyday. Their home will still be the same number of people with essentially the same routine as before. My world will not.  I don’t mean to cast judgment on anyone’s sense or depth of loss. I recognize this fact has me on a different path than the rest of the family.

If there is a reason that grief lingers differently for each person experiencing the death of the same loved one, I think the relationship figures prominently. I don’t need to go on academically about this – I see that how much time we spend and/or the day-to-day dependency with the person is highly relevant.

I don’t want to gloss over the other very important revelation this weekend: This journey right now with the entire extended family is nothing short of amazing. Really, amazing! The love extended all around is healing. The desire to take the pain away from each other is evident. Dave’s clear-headed life review is a priceless gift. My sense is that we are creating lasting bonds from this time together. In the midst of change, we are unspeakably fortunate in countless ways.

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