All the Firsts You Don’t Want to Celebrate, a reflection on grief
Riley is going to her first day at work and I snap a picture. I pick up my phone so that I can send it to my Dad, because I know he will be so proud of her. I pull up his number.
And then I remember . . .
I can’t call my Dad.
I can never call my Dad again.
And the tears come, as they do every day. Several times a day. And I stand there and sob. Body shaking. I just stand there and Thing 2 comes running from the other room. She already knows what’s happening and she comes, running with arms outstretched and starts to stroke my back.
This is yet another first that hits hard.
We had our first family graduation, my oldest daughter Riley, without my father.
I had my first Father’s Day without a father.
Our first day on our first job with a grandpa to celebrate it.
Our first wedding anniversary without a we love you so much call.
Our first his anniversary without him.
Our first Independence Day.
Soon we will have our first day of college. Our first birthdays. Our first Thanksgiving. And our first Christmas. All of them our firsts without this man that we love and adore. And just miss in a way we never knew you could miss someone.
I have texted my Dad a couple of times, knowing that his phone is no longer there. I sent long rambling messages to him telling him how much I love him and miss him and how I am not okay. I guess in a way it’s like visiting his grave and praying. Accept his grave is 1,000s of miles away and I needed to do something. Anything. I just needed to talk to my daddy.
The Myth of Three Days
In the beginning, you get 3 days. 3 days off of work. 3 days of friends and family reaching out. 3 days to grieve.
Except here I am and it’s 2 months since my daddy died, and I’m still grieving. I can’t imagine not grieving. The world is not the same. There is a gaping hole in my soul that only my daddy can fill. Maybe it will shrink some, I don’t know. But not in 3 days. Not in 2 months. Not ever, not totally.
I am sad. I am deep down in the soul of me, in the marrow of my bones, from head to toe sad.
I am weeping and wailing and sobbing at the grocery store because I saw his favorite cookie sad.
I am the world is not the same and how dare you pretend that it is sad. And angry.
I knew that grief causes anger but sometimes I find myself in a rage. Someone ran a red light and killed my daddy just 8 days before he was supposed to step off of a plane and into my arms and I am angry. I am angry that he survived cancer and Covid to be taken so suddenly and needlessly. I am angry that selfish people lied about and denied Covid, making the last year of his life what it was. I am angry that someone rushed or texted or felt so entitled that they just didn’t follow the laws of the road and now my daddy is dead.
But sometimes I think I feel the anger because anger is easier than sad.
This isn’t a normal sad. This is a blue cloud that follows you around and keeps out the light that everyone else is seeing sad. This is a gasp and catch your breathe because you have to remember again and again and again that this primary person in your life, this person that you love and talked to and shared yourself so fully with, is not longer there and you don’t know what to do about it sad.
You Don’t Do It Just Once
One time, a friend told me that when you are LGBTQIA+ you don’t come out just once, but you have to do it again and again and again, because everyone always assumes you are straight and you have to tell every new person you meet that you are not. I don’t think this compares, but I think I understand it a bit better now. Because you don’t just learn that your loved one has died once. You have to learn it again and again and again. Because your brain, it tries to make you forget. Or maybe it’s your heart.
So there you are, thinking I will call my Dad. Or I will buy this for my Dad. Or I will send this to my Dad. And then you have to remember. Again. Especially in the beginning. It’s like you are just hearing for the first time this horrific news again and again and again. You don’t do it just once. It’s like you have to train your brain to understand this new reality. Or maybe it’s your heart.
The Rituals of Goodbye
I did not want to say goodbye to my daddy. I was not ready. He was not ready. I don’t know how to do this. I don’t want to do this. You can’t make me do this.
Except I have no choice.
I have stood in a cemetery and cried. I have seen soldiers honor my father’s military service. I have seen friends and family and we have shared our favorite stories. Our favorite pictures. Our favorite foods. Our favorite songs. Our favorite memories.
I have poured through pictures and organized them, making photo albums and canvas prints to hang on my walls. I have snuggled with a blanket he bought, a stuffed animal that I have carried with me from house to house to house for the past 40 years because he won it for me at a county fair, and slept in his shirt.
I have lit candles. Said prayers. And I have cried. I have cried rivers of tears. I have cried them alone. I have cried them with family. I have cried them in the arms of my husband and in the arms of my children. But still they come and still they burn.
I am not ready to say goodbye.
I have no choice.
And so I grieve. I grieve for a man who helped bring me to life. I grieve for a man who held me in his arms when I was a child. I grieve for a man who pushed me on a swing and held my hand as he took me on walks. I grieve for a man who won me a stuffed pink elephant when I was only 7 years old. I grieve for a man who hurt me. I grieve for a man who taught me about forgiveness and choosing to be a better person. I grieve for a man who taught me how to be a parent as I became a parent. I grieve for a man who showed up when I needed someone to show up.
I grieve for a man who can never show up again because someone was careless and took that away from him. From me. From us both.
So I’ve had so many firsts. But there are so many more to have. And three days is not enough. And everything you think you know about grief is both right and wrong. But none of it matters because when it happens, it is awful. It is complicated. It is painful.
I miss you daddy.
I pick up the phone because I am sad and when I am sad I call my dad. Except then I remember. I can’t call my dad. And that’s the reason I am sad.
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About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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