On Hiding from Grief, or Something Like That

in the pool with Jess and Zach 001

My dad with baby me and my brother Zach.

Usually when I’m in France the itch to go home starts early. It’s pleasant for a few days and then I find myself increasingly irritable and impatient. The croissants, the hikes, the slight remove from civilization—it all somehow bugs me. I crave my usual routines, my habitual snacks—those strict comforts that help me get through the day to day. Familiarity.

Now I don’t feel that way much at all. In fact, I don’t really want to leave. This house has become a safe little bubble, as cozy as a space can be given the shitty circumstances. My dad is everywhere here—we may not see him, but it’s like we’re sitting at his core. I’m eating the croissants, the rich yogurts, the stinky cheese. I’m sipping wine with more regularity, a given instead of a treat. He’d want it this way.

When the snow fell, I was sure it was him, sending us a little love from above. My stepmom and I have finally been getting some fresh air, snowshoeing along a trail below our house, and I like to think that he’s there in the trees watching us, proudly. “Thank god, you’re getting outside!” he must be thinking, annoyed that we wasted a perfect ski vacation on his alarming exit.

Here, right now, life is about sleeping, eating, and the freshest air. We laugh about him, we cry, and we’re not overwhelmed by each other’s varying emotions.

I’m afraid that going home will make his absence that much stronger, more biting than it’s already been. I’m afraid that seeing this same sadness on hundreds of faces, rather than five, will make it hurt that much more.

It’s hard not to be in a bit of denial right now—it’s simply self-protective, a way to get us through the funeral and seeing all the friends and family gathered at our door. We can’t totally bawl our way through that, even if they say we can. It’s hard to live that way—facing all the great implications of this awful reality. No, it’s much easier to take it all in chunks, saving the deeper introspection for later on…when the dust has settled and people have gone home.

Logically, we all know he’s gone—but it hasn’t sunk in to the point where we feel it can’t be reversed. Or where, if he walked in one day, we’d be totally surprised. I suspect that it will only get harder for me as a few months go by, and I am faced with the fact that he is truly not coming back. That’s not to say that I think it will continue throughout my life, that it can only get more difficult—no. Just that, for a time, it will be a bumpy road, not a straight line to acceptance.

I’m learning, though, that it’s difficult to control grief—even if we Schiffers would like to try. We do our best to keep it at arm’s length, for now, yet it still creeps up: for me, in the shower, when I’m too alone with my thoughts; at the sight of older pictures–when we were babies and so much lay ahead; and upon some piercing realizations–that he will never know the man I marry, or be there to dance me through the night. There’s no poetic language to put to moments like these: they are cold and they are awful. They make me want to wildly rail against it all, or close my eyes until it’s over.

It’s going to take more time to realize this situation has no end, that it’s a brutal fact, a total transformation. Going home is part of that–painful and unpleasant, and necessary too.

5 replies »

  1. Grief wrenches our deepest, uncontrolled emotions out into the open regardless of time and place. It takes no prisoners and deals harshly with our sense of balance and perspective. There is a process, well known and unavoidable, by which we deal with this. Sharing collectively our remembrance for your father will be a part of this. It will be wrenching, but, as we go through it, it will become a milestone toward regaining perspective. What will sustain us is the memories of Craig and the impact he has had on our lives. He will remain for ever 58 for us as we grow older. Grief will give way to sadness and life will go on. Normal will return in a different guise and, for those who saw him every day, or week, he will be greatly missed – often.

  2. That is so well written and honest. My thoughts are with all the Schiffer’s during this trying time. I wish I could give you all a big hug.

  3. As someone who has lived with far too much loss, and who works at hospice, my advice: NEVER try to control grief. Give it its due. Cry until you’re eyes swell and your breath is ragged. Rage against this loss, or with it. Do not put on a brave face, or stuff it down. Like all things, grief has it’s expiration date too… it may creep up on you throughout your life, but it wont own you… if you give it its due. Condolences. A beautiful piece.

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