Friday, August 16, 2019

Grief, about 4 months out

Ugh, you guys.  I really missed my dad on vacation, which is so weird because we never took beach vacations when I was a kid, and my parents only came with us to Hilton Head once.  And they didn't even like it that much!  I have way more memories of just me and Ben and the kids in Hilton Head than I do with my parents.  But still.  I found myself feeling sad when before I have only been happy-- or generally annoyed with my family, because that's the reality of taking kids on vacation. 

Grief, man.  It's a slog.

My dad died a little less than 4 months ago, and all of the things people said right after it happened are true.  Grief does get different as it progresses-- not better, exactly, but more comfortable.  When I wake up in the morning, I already remember, and I don't have those few seconds of freedom followed by a horrifying realization. The realization doesn't take my breath away because it's already there. Sometimes I am not actively thinking about my dad being gone, so that's a nice change, but I always know that something-- someone-- is missing. I still cry out of nowhere and am triggered by unexpected things, but not as often.  When I have an acute grief spell, tough, it's more severe than before when I was weepy all the time.

I used to talk to my dad on the phone almost everyday.  He was a great person to call when I bored or driving, and I always answered the phone when he called me because it was fun to talk to him.  I only have one voicemail saved on my phone because I usually talked to him when he called.  The voicemail came when I was at acupuncture and had my ringer off, and it makes me sad because I remember rushing him off the phone a few days before that call when I was on my way into acupuncture.  As much as I love it, I would for sure go back and talk longer, letting the appointment slide if I could do that day over again.

But that-- the idea that I could go back and change anything-- is not a good way to think when someone you love dies. Because that's the really terrible part about death, right?  The enormity.  The finality.  The irrevocability. 

The weekend before my dad died,  I remember suddenly not feeing worried about his upcoming surgery anymore.  I was sitting on the porch off my parents' kitchen talking about it with my mom and dad, and we were all worried. In the course of that conversation, though, the idea that my dad-- the guy sitting next to me in the same chair I had seen him sit in a million times before-- would somehow not be in that chair the next time I came to Pekin?  Seemed preposterous. I was all at once sure everything would turn out just fine.

Ha. Ha. Ha.

When my dad came out of surgery OK and walked around the ICU and ate sherbet and started on oral pain meds, I relaxed right away.  See, I told myself, I knew it!  I wonder if he will be well enough or the kids to stay overnight after camp in July, so Ben and I can have a night out?  If they'll want us to come to town for my birthday and Mother's Day?  I bet we'll all be having $3 bloody Mary's at the Marigold parade in September, and this will all be a memory.

And then that awful phone call.  Thursday, April 25, at 9pm.  That terrible hour of not knowing what exactly was happening, even though, deep down, we all knew exactly what was happening.  And then 9:59, that other, more awful call.  And then this.  A world that seems totally normal but can't ever be again because my dad's not here.

My dad's dad died when I was in college.  My mom's dad died a few days after Cooper was born.  I thought we had more time.

Easter was the only holiday we spent together with everyone thinking that it could maybe be the last.  We were so nice to each other! The kids were well behaved at dinner and at Easter brunch.  We all had the presence of mind to enjoy being together, to remember what it felt like, all of us around a table.

Ben joined the Elks Club, and I cried because my dad would have loved the restaurant and bar there.  Near the end of the school year, one of the boys forgot to take their meds before school and got in trouble for climbing over the bathroom stall, and I picked up my phone to call him.  My dad loved to hear about the hell they raised when they forgot their pills-- reminded him of his own childhood, I think.  The thought of Jack starting middle school makes me weepy because it's the first kid milestone my dad will miss, and there are so many more rolling out in front of us.

In the course of coming up with a memorial plaque for my dad, we read so many poems about death, trying to find the perfect words to sum up what we're feeling.  Nothing was exactly right, and I should have been prepared for that because I performed part of the play Zelda by William Luce in college.  That play credits Zelda Fitzgerald with the line, "No one, not even the poets, can measure how much a heart can hold."

I liked Dylan Thomas because I wish my dad had raged a little more at the dying of the light. 

Or this from "Song of Myself": "Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged, Missing me one place search another, I stop somewhere waiting for you."

Or even Neruda's "So I wait for you like a lonely house till you will see me again and live in me."

We read so many sad things, and nothing seemed sad enough because this grief is just a part of our lives.  There's nothing remarkable about it. We're not special. Everyone will feel this way because, of course, none of us is getting out alive.  Ugh.  I totally get it now.
Jon and my dad walking last summer in the Sea Pines forest preserve

The bench we got for my dad at the park in Pekin where we'd always take the kids to play.  It faces the river, and Jon wrote the plaque inscription:
In memory of Gary R. Meinen.
He built his life with love, generosity, and devotion. 
We miss him every day.


  1. I, of course, don't know your dad. And the inscription on the bench made me cry. May we all strive to live in such a way. Again, I am sorry for your loss.

  2. I am so sorry for your loss. Death, as you say, is so irrevocable.

    Your inscription on the bench is lovely and and such a testament to the way your dad loved and the way he was loved.

  3. Oh Sarah. I’m so sorry. It’s a really shitty club and I so get what you mean when you say that you thought you had more time. I think all the firsts are especially hard. I will say that eighteen months in, my memories feel much more comforting and wistful, and the shocking bouts of overwhelming grief are much rarer. I hope the same holds true for you. You’re in my thoughts often <3

  4. Thank you for always sharing.