Grieving has always been an ambiguous process, but as more time passes between the day my dad died and today, it has grown to feel even more opaque. As humans, we’re constantly chasing after the “right way” to do things, and grief is no exception—especially if you’re a particularly perfectionistic and obsessive person like myself.
In the beginning, it was almost too raw and painful to be guided by anything like logic, but now, as the time slow-drips away, questions re: how I should or shouldn’t be feeling have a better chance of breaking through. For instance, I’ve felt particularly numb when I think about it all lately, which is unusual for me… a person who cries easily and openly. This strange lack of feeling leads me to question if it’s self-protective or if something’s wrong with me, or if I’ve just finally adjusted to a life without my Dad—a life that can’t sustain itself on a steady flow of tears.
I was thinking about this a lot as my family and I drove to his grave site yesterday in Colorado in honor of what would’ve been his 60th birthday. The last time we made this drive, a little over a year ago now, was my first visit to the spot, a reality that brought with it a fresh coat of pain on a grieving process that had been far more drawn-out than normal (first sprinkling his ashes in some of his favorite places, then burying the rest in a special spot). That process was as wearing as it was healing, wringing us all (I think) somewhat dry of surface-level sadness—the kind you can categorize neatly, the kind that makes sense to the brain. It certainly left me feeling hollow, like I needed a long vacation from reality, one that wouldn’t require me to face devastating truths and react to them accordingly.
Day-to-day life does a fairly good job of covering up the bigger picture, with its generally mundane moments building upon each other to create a thick tapestry of denial, or something like it. Minutiae becomes top of mind as heavier, smellier truths recede to the background. I felt this happening over the last year and accepted it as a form of acceptance in itself—a need to get on with life despite the fact (no matter how shitty that fact happens to be). But I expected this trip to bring back the onslaught of emotion I had experienced before… expected it, quite frankly, to smack me right in the face and remind me of a fragility that had gone missing (but that I was certain was still there).
Instead, I found myself trying to coax out the usual waterfall—staring at my siblings and stepmom’s faces in the hopes that their own sadness would make mine overwhelmingly palpable again. I sat alone in the car for a while and scrolled through photos of my Dad, perturbed by the fact that my longing to have him back was now so quiet—the same nauseous feeling in my stomach, but one that wasn’t immediately followed by the ugliest cry-face and seemingly-suffocating tears. I wasn’t trying to control myself—I didn’t have anything, in that moment, to control.
Later, when my stepmom read the same letter she read last year that my Dad had written to us all on Father’s Day eve years ago (yes, he wrote to us) and his voice shot through me in a way it hadn’t in so long, the contorted-face-crying returned, and with it the reminder that I’m still (and will always be) struggling to reckon with this. But it faded out quicker, transitioning easily to laughter with my siblings, complaints about the weather and other non-monumental events. It was not fresh grief, not overbearing or Hollywood-orchestrated… it was grief as I’d come to know it—a fact of my life, but one with less power to stop me in my tracks or always send me spinning into a labyrinth of feelings that could take hours to escape.