What’s Missing?

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Sitting at my desk, I am obviously working on the weekend, but maybe that’s because I was “off” duty from grief a couple of days this week. Yesterday I actually did do some garden work, “Zen” patio cleaning using a water pressure gadget to rid the back stoop of moss. A lot of black growth has accumulated over the last 2 years, maybe 3, since Dave’s illness. My priority attention was on him, and us, of course.

This is a challenge I’m up for: Reclaiming my outdoor space, my little slice of sunshine. (We have perfect Pacific NW weather right now). One of the large trees that anchored the northeast corner of landscape was cut down last week. Like a haircut, I had to have a bit of cut back on a tree from the opposite side to visually balance. Fortunately, there is still enough leafy screening left to maintain my summer privacy. Then I had the ivy cut back, and some winter cleanup on a path through my urban forest (all of 100 feet!). I remember and remind myself that when the top cover of tree comes down, flora and fauna can flourish. The small saplings will too.  I can see new possibilities of design emanating by clearing my landscape canvas. New growth. I enjoy my backyard. I am glad (and fortunate) to be able to remain here in my home.

Dave rarely missed a chance to comment on how much he loved watching me in the yard because  he saw me as being most peaceful there, doing my own thing. I think of him standing at the kitchen window when I traipse across the backyard lawn. Before you think I have a beautiful Home and Garden bursting color bowl, I don’t. It’s just basic landscape these days, filled with my mind’s eye of flower pots and little pockets of interest. Those are the possibilities.  In years past I did create a lot of the summer splash of flowers. It will happen again.

Change storm

There is more “change” dust being stirred up around here. Leah and Scott are moving to Hawaii for him to attend graduate school. I am sooo happy for them both. Adventure! But I am now the recipient of “stuff” filling the third bay of the garage. They moved out of their apartment last weekend in preparation for the big move. They are in temporary living quarters until he leaves in July. Leah will stay until August to finish up her schooling. Yes, this brings another anticipated loss; I suppose writing for an upcoming time!

With the moving and storing it has meant that we have had to tackle Dave’s office of books that crushed a table with its load of cardboard boxes. We started this project the week before. It is left unfinished since I bought out all the inventory of the perfect size plastic bins from two stores. Books are quintessential Dave. I can’t possibly remove any because his kids – and I mean Leah at the top of the list – just can’t part with them. She expects them to become a library in her future home. The bins sit waiting like an old fashion hope chest for the betrothed. (My words – I love that she envisions a big library!) Never mind that I live with the stacks for now. Really, that’s OK. I believe to keep deceased people’s stuff one must honor it, use it or repurpose in a way that has meaning. So they are being staged into bins and properly stored with a de-moisture pack and covered from the light. Dave said his home office was the better selection of books and I believe it. But this deserves a thorough review.

I note that on the Saturday Leah and I began, we really only walked through the garage, talked, cried and walked out. Neither of us was ready in that moment. But on Sunday, we began in earnest and made lots of room for her move. One scary moment… The table that collapse sometime last year under the weight of books was situated over a storage bin of my grandmother’s china, which, until last year, was used at every Thanksgiving dinner. (link) I was heartbroken to think that I damaged or broke some of the pieces. I don’t know how, but the dented Sterilite bin and the packing I used was enough to keep it safe. There are no casualties. Whew.

This move has been difficult for Leah, understandably so. She is churning up her memories of her Dad, her childhood, her dreams. It came on the heels of her birthday which threw her into her own grief tsunami  out of nowhere. I felt the birthday loss too but certainly not at the same level she did. It was a stark reminder of just how different each person’s grief is for the same loved one. And the time frame. And how I can let stuff go now that isn’t relevant to me because I see it every day. And what is relevant, or not relevant, is only my perspective because they are many more who love(d) him and want to keep tangible pieces around. Even if they don’t see it every day, there is a sense of trust that it – whatever the “it” is (clothes, books, toys, gifts, furniture, certificates…) – is safely here. A trust that some things won’t change or go away. But they do.

I like change. Leah and Dave, not so much. So in the name of stability, predictability and lack of attention, I haven’t touched much the past years – literally, years now. So with Spring and warm weather I have fresh energy and desire for change. I itch to refresh and renew the house inside and out, to match the hard work I’ve done on the inside and out of me. But now that seems disloyal to Dave almost. He’s gone and I start redecorating? Or cutting trees? Or tossing out his stuff? How could I? No one says anything to me (who knows anyway? I just do when I want.) but I can imagine it might be disturbing to others. I hear such responses from clients confused by their family responses often enough. And really, if Dave was here, I would be doing the same thing. With his “permission” of course – well, more of a “buy in.” Actually, he often shook his head at my proposed ideas and then afterwards would be happy with the change. Except his clothes, even those he hadn’t worn for many years. He hated me clearing the closet. I even did the hanger trick – with the hook turned backwards on the rod so you can see which had or had not been pulled to wear over a given time period – no go, he’d say. I offered solid proof of non-use. More like nonsense! My point is that decisions made with him here and my actions on my own might be the same, but today they can violate another person’s sentiment. Making a change or cleaning out something wouldn’t seem out of place were he alive, but now that he has passed there is a tendency to keep it all,  since there is nothing new to be replaced by his presence. Once it’s gone, he’s gone. No wonder we humans like hanging onto stuff. (He touched it. He wore it. He loved it. I surround myself in it.)

From clearing into clarity

By the end of Leah’s move, our start on the books-in-bins project and other tid-bits of change, a moment of clarity really came through for her. She realized – I mean the deep down, gut-felt, assimilated got-it – that her dad was, for her, THE only person she trusted with her deepest, innermost thoughts on “life, the universe and everything.” Without judgment. She could be open and honest and not feel alone. He could be his storyteller self and connect with her through his own life experiences. He could always help her help herself and know what would get her through any moment. She counted on him. And he is not here. She found what is missing from her life in all that stuff that is being moved emotionally, physically, and spiritually throughout these last few years of change. She’s missing her go-to person: Her dad, the best at being who he was by listening, accepting and encouraging her to be her own person.

“Dad is the only person I really trusted with the deepest innermost things – life, the universe and everything. I could come to him and be that open. I knew he wouldn’t be judgmental and I don’t know anyone else in my life like that. I knew he understood what my thoughts and questions were, coming through his perspective.” ~Leah

Anyone who knows Dave understands the depth of his ability to make you feel special, calm and OK with yourself. He was one of those people who had the “presence” everyone seeks out these days, to be in the moment with you like there is not much else going on. He exuded silently that you matter. Because to him, the lives he touched did matter. Every child, every student, every friend, every colleague. And if you didn’t, he just wasn’t in your life, nor you in his, without drama. He took a rather passive non-approach as he never wanted to trod on another. But when you showed up he was there. He remembered his Oklahoma roots. He was a historian. He loved stories. He believed in the future. And everything intersected.

I learned more about Dave through the words written by many of his students on his website during his last year of life. I learned just how authentically he led his life. I saw him through a perspective that is precious and comforting to me, and, oh so more heart-healing than any clothes or books. It is the memories and stories that last. Although there is a theme to his life, he was different for each of us.

And the meaning

I’d love to stop here. But there is one more huge thought; One that makes me proud and deeply happy. It was the next part that Leah said after her review of the past couple of weeks and naming what was missing about her dad, his role in her life. She said that she understands that what he can’t give her now means she has to fulfill that role for herself – she has to learn to be her own feedback person. How she does that is yet to be seen. The fact she knows what to provide herself by naming what’s now missing in the light of her father’s death is huge in my mind.

For me, this last year of grief has been about giving myself the love I allowed Dave to be the keeper of. I don’t think of this in a self-deprecating way, but as an enlightenment that comes through loss. For Leah it is to trust herself and her ability to believe she has or can find the the answers. We lost the same man in different ways. I propose that is true of all losses. He would be proud to know he helped bring these valuable qualities forth in us both.

What’s missing? It is a simple and powerful question I have used in writing through loss since the first Storybooks for Healing program was presented. I’ve always equated knowing the answer to this question –beyond the superficial “my loved one” – is one key into the profoundly life changing and affirming work of grief. It might be found layers deep beneath the surface. It requires discovering a way to articulate the relationship with the loved one then, and create meaning for it now. This is Discover • Create • Share that I know as Navigating Grief. This answer can shift the pain of loss into a strengthening knowledge of self, a time for growth and a conscious decision for finding one’s way through grief.

* * *

May 8, 2013 Postscript

Since writing and reviewing this post I have decided to call this my official last Grief Reflection. The intent was to provide my personal journal  as a caregiver’s blog, and since Dave’s death and the year hence, I no longer operate in that  role. I will continue to write articles and post personal observations on grief, but not under the personal heading that has become Grief Reflection. In recent weeks I have preferred to appear in the Navigating Grief Community in which anyone wishing to write through grief is welcome to join. The decision to close Grief Reflection arises from my community journal when I noted in an after thought on this post:  “I am owning this New Beginning that is my life now. I won’t stop missing him. Heck, I still wear my wedding rings, but I do have him tucked safely in my heart. And, as a mother I now can see that our daughter also has him safely tucked into her heart. Her revelation to me that she understands what she needs for her New Beginning is the final link to my coming “full circle” in  loss, grief, love and healing.



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