This morning I woke up with the beautiful sawtooth mountains as a backdrop for my morning, sipping coffee and taking in every fragment of the moment as my heart broke and mended a million times over. Thousands of pieces shattering apart and pulling back together, a beautiful ebb and flow that I have learned to call grief.
5 years ago today I woke up on a Monday morning, sipping coffee with my mama’s kitchen as the backdrop for my morning, getting ready to go pick my dad up to look at houses that he was thinking about buying. He sounded hopeful for the first time in a long time, ready to take on a new chapter of his life in a new home that we would make memories in.
I wondered if I would bring my future husband there someday. I laughed thinking about the tenth time we’d visit and Dad still not remembering his name. I wondered if I would stop by with my future children on Christmas for the most nontraditional dinner ever (likely Costco rotisserie chicken and mayonnaise sandwiches with a big bucket of fresh clams) and laugh about how grandpa never had a Christmas tree.
I hoped he would find love in that home, in every single form it shows up on our doorstep dressed as.
I sipped my coffee and saw my uncle Terry’s name pop up on my phone. I answered without hesitation, thinking maybe he already picked dad up and they would come get me, instead. I wondered if maybe we’d go through the drive thru for mochas since dad recently decided he couldn’t start a morning without one.
“I just got to your dad’s. He’s dead.”
Sometimes I wish I wouldn’t have answered so I could have even just a few more seconds without that pain. Sometimes, I close my eyes and I play a different story in my mind. The one with mochas. The one where dad is still alive.
But just life that, my entire world changed in the time it took to say hello.
5 years ago to the day, the backdrop for my morning transformed into gutted sobs and screaming, begging, and asking over and over again why? How?
I remember talking to myself on the hardwood floor until my mom got to me.
How is this happening? I asked over and over.
I still haven’t figured out the answer.
But it happened. My dad died. And it was the most excruciating feeling I have yet to experience in this life thus far. My entire being shattered. My heart, my mind, everything I knew to be true in this world. It was all torn from my grasp in the matter of time it takes to answer a phone call.
And in the seconds, the minutes, the hours, days, weeks, and years since answering that phone call, I have spent a lot of time trying to figure out the answer to that question. Trying to make sense of it, somehow. Trying to find the silver lining or the reason why.
But once you become acquainted with grief, you learn that there isn’t a reason why. There isn’t a method or pattern or purpose to the moments its claws dig so deep into your heart, you’re completely convinced that it’s over for you, too.
And just the same, there’s no pattern or purpose to the moments his hands are so close to mine, I swear I could reach across the middle console of the car and squeeze his palm just one more time. The moments when I beg for a sign that he’s still here, and I get one.
The times I know there’s no way I can take another breath alone, and I get a knock on the door or a ding on my phone or a smile from a stranger that reminds me we are never truly alone in any of it.
Not in the moments our worlds change in the blink of an eye on a Monday morning, and not in the five years that follow that moment of impact.
I am here, 5 years later, with more grief and sadness and passion and purpose than I have ever had before. And I am learning to find comfort and solace in the fact that all of those things can exist together. All of them. The good and the bad, the happy, the terror, the heartbreak, the destruction, and the rebuilding. Every one of those pieces make up a necessary thread to sew your delicate broken heart back together.
I don’t believe that everything happens for a reason, in fact, sometimes hearing that makes me want to punch the lips that said it right in the face. I don’t believe there was a reason my dad had to die. I don’t believe there’s a reason that anyone has to die. But I do believe when someone dies, we are left with so many more reasons to live. And there is beauty in that. There is beauty in honoring someone with the way in which you choose to move forward with your life. There is beauty in the pause that occurs before making a decision, thankful you can still hear their voice in your mind. There is beauty in having someone so important in your life that it physically hurts to miss them, to think of them, to wish they were still here. And there is beauty in all of the ways they will still be here even after they are gone.
I have had a really hard month leading up to this day. I don’t want to say it’s because Mercury was in retrograde for the first time in 2020, but it was definitely because Mercury was in retrograde for the first time in 2020. That or the ‘Rona. But I made a promise no part of this day would focus on that. My world and heart needs a break.
All jokes aside, this has been a heavy month. And not just for me, but for pretty much everyone I’ve come in contact with. We’ve all felt this odd pull, I call it a heaviness, and it’s sometimes so debilitating that it feels paralyzing to even just breathe through it. I have found myself questioning everything I know to be true all over again. I feel like I am failing. And even when I know in the deepest part of my heart that I’m not, I still pause in the midst of those feelings and ask what they are trying to tell me. I invite them to sit down with me until they don’t look so scary anymore. And I have come to realize that the feelings of deep unworthiness actually create movement in our lives that wouldn’t happen if we didn’t get uncomfortable enough to move. If we coasted through life in blissful comfort, we wouldn’t ever get pushed to make changes in our lives that end up leading us to the path that we were always meant to travel.
My last year was filled with a lot of that discomfort. It was filled with a lot of pushing me until I finally moved, even when I was in a place I wasn’t yet ready to move from. But looking back, it was so necessary that I did. It was so necessary that I stopped long enough to ask the discomfort what is was trying to tell me.
It is always trying to tell us something.
We just have to stop long enough to listen.
This past year I have created, destroyed, loved, lost, and I’ll be damned if I don’t find it within me to love even harder again. Because that’s what this life is all about.
When I lost my dad, I wanted to harden myself from every single feeling so that I never had to feel sadness like that again. I actually wondered if there was even a point to living if we just end up losing everyone who matters to us in the end. And that thought almost destroyed me. It pushed me to such a dark place that I had to fight like hell to find the light again. To crawl my way out of the hole and get to the other side and, even on the other side, I was still faced with the reality that this life is filled with so much loss. So much pain. So much heartache and wondering why. And so many why’s that we will never get the answer to.
But life is also filled with so many why’s we will learn along the way. So much love. So many lessons and blessings and reasons to keep fighting even when we are surrounded by the darkness.
I miss my dad so much. I miss him so much that sometimes I can’t even let my mind wander to how much I miss him because it hurts that much to let the floodgates open. And I have learned that it’s okay sometimes to close the door on my grief. To start a new project or focus on a different chapter or let my fingers write about all of the things I’m grateful for rather than all of the things I am still grieving.
I have also learned it’s okay to let the floodgates open and swallow me whole. To engulf myself completely and entirely within my grief and cry so hard that I wonder if my insides might turn into a raisin. There is healing found in both opening and closing the door, but the door to our grief is never going to go away. We can paint it and board it up and cover it with wallpaper to match the rest of the house, but it will still be there. And as our lives go on, we become filled with more doors and more corners and windows and attics. We are a product of everything we’ve ever loved and everything we’ve ever lost. And, sometimes, as I drive my car down a street I’ve never been on and look at houses I’ve never seen before, I have to remind myself of that.
We all have closets and doors and attics and dark corners. We all have doors leading to grief and sadness and pain and all of the creaking moments that still hurt to the touch. We all have windows leading to moments we could have sworn we were flying. We all have basement stairs leading us to darkness and kitchen tables holding a half drank cup of coffee the moment where everything changed.
That same table that held flowers that lived and died, dinners with laughs and tears, and a stiff glass of whiskey on the nights when the memories knocked just a little too loudly on a door you thought for sure you’d never have to answer again.
So, today, let’s honor the houses that built us. The doors we have opened with our trembling hands, even when we were terrified of what was on the other side. The walls we painted when the color no longer served us. The windows we created when the air inside our lungs got a little stale. I see you. I see all of you.
And, today, this new door is getting a new notch that we made it through another year.
To putting one foot in front of the other, to taking things day by day and sometimes minute by minute, to surviving, and, most importantly,
Here’s to you, daddio.