I am responsible for keeping 9 toilets and one urinal clean. And unless you are living in a mansion overlooking the Caribbean with 9 bathrooms, that’s a number that no one wants to be responsible for. Frankly I would be ok with the 9 toilets if I could just get rid of that damn urinal. So when I was offered help to clean them, you would think I would have broken out into my happy dance; if I actually had a happy dance. But instead I was cranky and irritated. Who gets cranky and irritated when someone is offering to clean the urinal? Grieving people, that’s who.
It happens like that every April. It starts slowly, but by the 24th, my irritability, teariness and general bitchiness reaches critical levels. At first I can’t put my finger on it. Then it dawns on me what day is approaching. April 25th. You would think that after 26 years I would handle it better. But it has been this way ever since that spring day I got the phone call that my dad had died. Every April there are triggers. Like the first commercial for the Masters, or the faint purple of the first azalea bloom in my front yard; two of my dad’s favorite things that just happen to occur every April. They bring to the surface all the memories of the moments that surrounded my dad’s death. All the feelings come rushing back.
It’s not like in those first days and months after my dad died when I was moving through life in a fog; a little numb to the reality that my dad was gone. In retrospect, I think the fog and numbness is a gift. If the pain and reality of death came at us all at once it would be too much. Thankfully, it comes in waves. With each crash of a new wave a little of the numbness is washed away and the pain and finality of the loss holds you under and tosses you around for a bit. I remember the 6 month mark being some of the hardest times of grief. I was coming out of my numbness and the world had continued to move forward. Everyone seemed to just go about their normal day. But for me, everyday, the sadness and grief was still so raw. Somedays I just wanted to stop and scream, “Has everyone forgotten my dad died?” “Hey, I’m still missing everything about him!” “Would someone stop what they are doing and sit down and grieve with me” “Would someone notice I’m still hurting?”.
The years pass and the grief changes, but it never goes away. The triggers of the season will return every year, even when you are not thinking about it. They will sneak up on you and stir up the sadness. They will bring into focus memories that have faded into the busyness of life. Sweet memories of your loved one that is gone. Every April I am given the gift of those triggers. At first they make me cranky, but then they bring to the surface the good memories. Like the vivid memory I have of a day in the kitchen of my child hood home. A kitchen with it’s peach paint, brick accent wall, turquoise appliances, and plaid carpet. Seriously, who puts carpet in a kitchen, much less plaid? It’s taken some months in therapy, but we have finally forgiven my mom for her lack of interior design skills. I mean who can blame her? She didn’t have the luxury of Pinterest or the Houzz app. But it was in that kitchen, that Pinterest fail kitchen, that I have the sweetest memory of my dad hugging me. You see, my dad was the quintessential strong and silent type. It wasn’t until he became sick that he became generous with his words and his show of affection. But to this day, especially in April, I remember that hug and I can still feel the warmth and strength of his arms around me. And If I sit still and I really listen, I can hear him whisper in my ear that he loves me and he is proud of me.
It doesn’t matter how long we have with those we love, it’s never long enough. The finality of their death is suffocating and the stages of grief are real and take time; an eternity really. Because even though the grief changes over time, it won’t really end until we are reunited with those we have lost. And though they sneak up on me while I am going about my business and make me crankier and teary-er than I already am, I am thankful for the triggers. They make me stop and remember and feel. I hope in your grief you too can begin to be thankful for your triggers. And if I may give a little piece of advice. Don’t be cranky and irritated when someone offers to help you clean a urinal. They may never offer again.