It’s a Sunday evening in my dorm room, and my roommate just left to go out. She kissed me on the head and asked if I was okay before she left. All I could do to not burst out in tears was nod my head in response and stare at my computer screen. She could see the look in my eyes that things weren’t alright. Once that door shut the tears poured out.
I have these moments, as I am sure many people who have experienced death do. Sometimes they are triggered by a date or an event and sometimes they pop up out of nowhere. This moment was the result of a passing thought of thirteen days until two years. I said that to myself after looking at my calendar and seeing how close I was to the two-year anniversary of my father’s death. In the beginning I always thought that this was supposed to be the magical countdown where everything will suddenly be better after that date had passed. At least that’s what the books always told me. When my father died I spent days in Barnes and Noble reading book after book about grief and how I was supposed to feel. I had experienced death before but not something like the death of a parent and I wanted to know what to expect and how to deal with it. I spent more time reading about grief then actually grieving.
It took some time for me to put down my books and allow my own grief to do its work. But getting there was difficult. Months following my father’s death I acted as if nothing was wrong because I felt like the world moved on without me and I had to keep up. I was afraid of what would happen if I let my guard down and stopped blocking everything out. I felt like I couldn’t afford to cry in the middle of the day at school. With those feelings came the analyzing of my grief, I questioned when the anger stage would show up, or the depression and how to hide it. I spent so much time focused on how I thought I was supposed to feel instead of really letting myself feel. I now know, twenty-three and a half months later that it was the unknown that I was afraid of. The death of a loved one, such as a parent comes with state of mind that can never be explained on paper, let alone explained at all. And here I was, so afraid of what I didn’t know that I attached my feelings to chapters and referenced my thoughts in the index.
Months ago, if someone had asked me how I felt about how I dealt with my father’s death I would say: terrible, I did it in all the wrong ways. But now, when I look back, I realize that, that was how I grieved. There is no right or wrong way to grieve; one does what makes them most comfortable at the moment. And I was doing what I knew best, avoiding and staying busy. Grief is such an undefined thing and when one tries to label the “stages of grief” or tell someone that they should be over it by now, they are wrong. Grief if individualized to each person that experiences it. Just like how I experienced it in the beginning, I am experiencing it now with my “moments.” I am still avoiding it by waiting until I’m in a private place, but I have now begun to let myself feel what I need to feel. There is a quote from the book The Wild Palms by William Faulkner that I keep close to my heart. It reads, “Between grief and nothing, I will take grief.” Yes, I bought the books because I thought I felt nothing and wanted something else to tell me what to do. But now I know that I was grieving all along, and I still am. March 31st will come and go and I will still grieve my father’s passing in my own way. There is no magic date where it all becomes better, and there are no books that will tell you exactly what to expect. There is a reason things like this don’t come with a handbook. We are meant to learn from and embrace our grief, not look for an easy way out because it’s too hard. We experience it in a way that is necessary and adapted to ourselves; our emotions may throw us a curve ball once and awhile but nothing that we aren’t meant to handle at some point in our lives.