On Grieving

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The hands of my father’s grandchildren on top of his, as he lay dying.

 

Grief took me down.    

I know I am not alone in this, it’s what grief does.  

But the experience of being leveled, and the amount of time (three years) that it took me to metabolize the loss and climb out of the abyss caught me off guard. This was when my father died, a death that was in fact a blessing, anticipated, even prayed for. He had been suffering from two aggressive strains of brain disease, Alzheimer’s and Lewy Body’s Dementia, both of which were kicked into high gear from an insult to his brain that occurred at age 68. By 73, he was in and out of psychosis, besieged by hallucinations and agnosia. He told us he wanted to take “an early exit,” and in spite of all his confusion and the mayhem of his mind, he managed intentionally not to eat or drink for the ten days it took his strong body to die. We wanted this for him. We his children, his children-in-law, his grandchildren and his wife, surrounding him in hospice, wanted him to succeed, to find peace by departing the ravaged chaos that had become his life. His terrier Davis was in bed with him the entire time, a comforting sentinel.  For many weeks after my father gracefully passed, I felt a strange elation. Like I could feel his soul, and the peace he’d found, which reassured me deeply.  

But then I realized he’d died. He was dead. You’d think I would have known that, considering the fact I was holding his hand, kissing his face and cheering him on, there for his final breaths, there when the nurse pronounced, “Kit no longer has a heartbeat.” I saw his body in the bed, while his dog Davis ritualistically licked every inch of my father’s arm right after he died. But as dim as this may sound, I still did not get that he was gone.  

And when it finally hit me, a few weeks later, it was a body blow. A sucker punch that came daily for years, leaving me hollowed out, yearning, wobbly, curled in on myself. I would never hear my father laugh, ever again, or feel the gruff yet tender love of his hugs. I remember one evening about six months after my father’s death, lying in the fetal position in front of my fireplace and wondering if I would ever get up again. This death was prepared for, a tragic sort of blessing: how about all the brutal untimely deaths, the suicides? Parents who lose children, kids who lose a sibling or a mommy or daddy at a young age? The empathetic inkling of their grief made me wonder how anyone does this. Loves and loses, then gets up again.  

All of us will experience grief in our lives, and most likely already have. Maybe many times. Loving is a risky business, if you think about it.  

My friend Annie once did an exercise at LAMDA (London Academy of Music & Dramatic Art), which was to walk around the city acting as if each and every person had just experienced the death of their parents. She and her classmates who carried out this assignment all entered a state of profound compassion. They were blown away by the level of eye contact, the heart-opening love wordlessly given and received amongst strangers. Maybe we should all try this. Every single day for the rest of our lives.

20 thoughts on “On Grieving”

  1. Oh Hilary.
    My father passed away 3 years ago on October 21st. My son’s birthday. We are all there with him as well. We knew he had to go and that his body had betrayed him. I too was not prepared for the gutteral reaction I had and still have when I remember – like the movie Ground Hog’s Day- almost every day that he’s gone. Bless you and your gift for expressing what we all feel. I adore you!

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    1. Thank you for your honesty about the Ground Hog’s Day experience. And may your guttural grief pass into something more gentle when the time comes. What a beautiful death it sounds like he had. When my grandmother died, gracefully, on her bed at home with loved ones around her, my brother who had been in med school and was now practicing as a dr, said, “All deaths aren’t like that. A beautiful death is such a gift to the family.’

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  2. Hillary— I think these are very good; poignant and well-written. I have no doubt they’ll be super well received. When is the book coming out? Will there be photos or illustrations? Can I be your agent? N

    Snet form my iPhone…

    >

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I do plan to include photos of poignant times that happened in the memoir. And illustrations? I am not planning on the graphic memoir genre, but I did do many many many doodles when I joined Téa’s Cognitive Brain Rest, and it’s possible one could be a book jacket? I will include one in an upcoming blog. It will either be called: On Cognitive Brain Rest. Or: On Zentangles.

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  3. i too grieve daily for my mother though 3.5 years have passed. i am often surprised by the intense physical pain that i experience when i think of her last week and how hard i tried to keep her comfortable. i would have peeled off my skin to take her shortness of breath away. it is not surprising we grieve as we do for our parents. they gave us life and sheltered us. i feel like i will never experience that sense of safety again without their physical presence in the world. you are such a beautiful writer.

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    1. That is so well said, about the shelter our parents provided us–as a way of accounting for the profound physical experience of losing it. Thank you for sharing so intimately. And I’m SURE your mom thanks you from the beyond for being such a devoted daughter.

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  4. Thank you all so much for your comments in this important conversation. As divided as our world is, the bottom line is we are all in this together. All in the human condition. As mortals. Lots of love and gratitude, Hilary

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  5. Beautifully written description of your grief process Hilary. I am grateful for your courage and ability to put your experience into words and share it openly. Grief and loss are so much a part of my personal and professional life. I am drawn to hearing about experiences. When my brother died young I was devastated and completely immobilized for a period of time. My parents’ passing is still in front of me but circumstances make me highly aware, and in the process already. I am going to reblog this and thank you for having that option available!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for the honor of being re-blogged! And I send you compassion for losing your brother at a young age. No doubt that shaped you in profound ways. The work you do in the world seems like a gift born of that sad loss.

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  6. Reblogged this on Bonnie A. McKeegan Psychotherapist & Author of my own story and commented:
    An experience of losing one’s father written beautifully by Hilary. We all experience grief and through a myriad of circumstances but we (society in general) do not talk about it enough. We do not prepare for the process by bringing it into the open as part of everyday life from the beginning. Beautiful writing about loss experiences can help others feel connected and understand their own feelings. Thus, the reblog.

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