Life in the After

I don’t know what to call this space – these days that unfolded “after Dad died”. I don’t want everything I do or think about to be marred by his death because the focus is misplaced. Plus, Dad wouldn’t like it. Shall we just call it After? First we had Before, now we have After. I don’t know how else to bookmark the days.

This Thursday makes three weeks since Dad passed away, and though I seem able to move through the day with ease a lot of the time, there have been moments when I felt nearly paralyzed with indecision or frozen with a blank mind. I have work to do, and yet, I could easily stare at a wall for an indefinite amount of time. I could sit on the porch and watch the birds, or I could start working on something at my computer only to give up in five minutes to gaze out the window. It still feels like my brain is floating in a jar on a shelf.

In this After, we followed through with a few pre-made plans, and those activities have helped to distract me, forcing me to think of other things instead of dwelling in this headspace.

Last Saturday, I joined Chuck on a quick trip to the hunting lease. He needed to check his game cameras, and I needed to leave my house to breathe different air. The hunting lease is a beautiful piece of property, despite what ultimately happens there, and riding around in the forest gave me the temporary peace of mind I was looking for.

As soon as I came home, the haze returned.

Similarly, we spent this last weekend in Chattanooga, as I already had plans to take senior photos of Grace and Ethan. I didn’t want to cancel on account of grief because I knew leaving the house would be good for me. Staying in a hotel and reading a book next to a swimming pool was the change of scenery – again – that I needed.

Seeing our friends though? Invaluable! We even saw Hayli, whom we haven’t seen in more than a year.

We laughed and enjoyed the heck out of each other, and I was grateful for every moment, but sure enough, as soon as we got home, I felt sad and irritated.

I realize now that working from home while also grieving is proving to be a challenge. If I worked in a traditional environment, I could take some bereavement days. I could cash in on vacation days. Or, I could go to a place and do the work there; then I could come home and crawl into bed. I could separate these two things, untangle work from home.

As a freelance writer and teacher, I don’t have that option. Sure, I built the life I wanted, but here in-lies the newly-discovered flaw: When you need your home to be a place of refuge, it can’t be a place of refuge when you’re behind on grading papers or on deadline for a magazine. Instead, home is a place of multiplying levels of anxiety, particularly when the boys need something basic, like dinner.

Currently, all I really have to look forward to right now are breaks from school (fall break, holidays, etc), but even then, I’m planning to work ahead for my classes and help Mom clean out Dad’s home office. Both tasks need to be done, so it is what it is.

I know grief is a weird animal that presents itself at different moments in different ways to different people. Right now, grief is most prominent on Thursdays. My body subconsciously counts the minutes and recalls the last day moment by moment leading up to 9:45 p.m. Leave it to my goofy brain to grieve on a schedule.

And yet, grief is lingering in the background every other day, too. It is the ghost behind me, the court jester in the corner of the room. Grief is both a memory and a nightmare – remembering our rides to and from school together in Chattanooga, then recalling how horrible his breathing sounded in his last few hours. My memories bring comfort, then pain. The cycle continues.

Anger is there too, cozied up alongside grief. They are quite a pair! I am furious that we’re entering the most beautiful season in Tennessee and Dad won’t be here to see it. I am angry that Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and New Year’s Eve are all on Thursdays. I am haunted by how horrible last New Year’s Eve was and preparing for this one to feel even worse.

People have told me, based on their own experiences, that grief unfolds at random times. It can be months and years before I truly process and understand my own feelings on Dad’s death. I believe this to be true, but what in the world will these months and years even look like? If 2020 has taught me anything, it’s to expect the unexpected.

We’re about to enter my favorite month, and wouldn’t you know – OCTOBER STARTS ON THURSDAY. As I raise my fist to the sky in protest, Dad’s voice booms in my ear: “Buck up, Kid!”

All I can say in response is, “I’m trying, Dad! I’m trying!”