I’ve been a fortunate person for someone of my age. Grief is an unfamiliar emotion to me. Over the past few days, I’ve been astonished by its insidious power.
1) I can’t think very well. That’s why I’m making another list. Lists require no transitions. They create their own kind of shape. They make you feel organized and in control when you’re a mess.
You should see my to-do lists: Call minister. Notify people. Make decisions about Biblical passages and hymns for the service. I don’t have to put remember to grieve on my to-do list. It comes and goes as it will.
2) Normally, I’m a fairly energetic person. I walk at a brisk pace. Right now, I have no energy whatsoever.
I would say I’m emptied out, but I’m not. I am heavy and weighed-down.
3) I think of a good idea. Go to a movie. Yes, a movie! Perfect! “We’re going to a movie,” I tell my husband. He nods and tells me to wait a few minutes until he’s finished writing something.
A few minutes later, I have changed my mind. A movie? That sounds terrible. What an awful idea. I want to lie on the couch and never move again.
4) My sister writes that Daddy loved the 23rd Psalm and the hymn “He lives!” I remember that hymn, standing to sing it in a church with my parents. It lingers with me, its chorus repeating again and again. Sometimes, I find myself mouthing the words.
5) I wake in the middle of the night thinking about my father’s hands. My mother once told me she fell in love with my father because of his big, strong, capable hands.
When I visited him in the assisted-living center, we would hold hands. I wish I’d known, when we left Austin in August, that that was the last time I would ever touch his hands. I didn’t stay long enough. I never stayed long enough. I never thought this would be the last time.
6) TV is perfect. But nothing too challenging. No PBS, no detailed series. Just mindless chatter, flash, loud noises.
7) I have a need to be useful. I am always reading, puttering, working. Not now. I am useless, aimless.
8. My husband and I, normally mild-mannered sorts, spend our time getting into loud arguments with people over the phone about arrangements. We seem to intuitively play good-cop, bad-cop — somehow never arguing with the same person.
All the emails about arrangements my husband sends to my sister have the word assholes in the subject line. He also repeatedly refers to one guy as a “dufus.” I tell him he needs to use the proper spelling, doofus. I may be stupid with stress right now, but I still have standards.
9) The death of a second parent is different from the death of a first. Something bigger dies with a second parent — a generation, a marriage, a status of being someone’s child.
10) Relief comes in strange ways, shows up in strange settings. We go to a Yankees game with our friends Mary Jo and Bill. The organist plays “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” Mary Jo drags me to my feet and puts her arm around me. I sing — no, scream — the words, swaying back and forth, yelling at the blue skies, the swaying crowds, the crazy spectacle of it all. I don’t care if I never get back.
(Copyright 2010 by Ruth Pennebaker)
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