My mind has been trying to understand how my heart still hurts so badly when I think about my father, who passed away seven years ago. As time has moved on, the grief bursts have been less frequent. But they haven’t ended. As I found out on Easter Sunday.
I was trying to tell my daughter that I appreciated her technological wizardry for converting an old VHS tape to a DVD format. It was from the ancient era of 2001. A “Lefse Documentary,” starring my mother.
Mom was in her glory. She was in her large farmhouse kitchen and instructing plenty of eager learners in the art of making lefse, a very thin potato bread enjoyed by Norwegians and others. It was a moment called for documentary making, and I planted the camcorder solidly on my right shoulder.
Mom passed away last summer, at 79, from cancer. My siblings, their families and mine were gathering for Easter, and I thought it would be a treat to see the “Lefse Documentary.”
Because Mom had the starring role, I was prepared to see her. I remembered her enthusiasm bubbling over that day, the way she explained everything with a big smile, and then later in the day her ever-so-pleasant suggestion that perhaps it was time for me to put the camera down and get to work.
What I didn’t remember was that Dad made a cameo appearance in this 2001 flick. He came in from outside and hung up his hat and coat in the porch, like I had seen him do a thousand times. We were joking that since Dad was one of the few there who was 100 percent Norwegian, he had earned the right to give orders. He entered the kitchen and in his booming and faux stern voice played along by ordering, “Snap to!” Which was followed by a hearty chuckle. Classic Dad. With all the ladies swarming in the kitchen, it didn’t take him long to retire to his recliner in the living room.
Dad would pass away seven years later from kidney failure and congestive heart failure.
As I was thanking my daughter for getting the format converted so it could be watched later in the day with my siblings, I confided that I didn’t remember Dad being in it.
And then the unexpected grief burst. Wailing, I told her that I missed my Dad. He wasn’t just my Dad, he was my mentor. “I’ve tried to be a good person like he was,” and “He was always so happy.” For the most part, I’m a person who uses measured words. No-one was more surprised than me by the words that flowed from my mouth. Words that weren’t planned, that came from somewhere other than my brain.
There’s an unraveling that happens when you lose someone you love. Something constant and reassuring in your life gives way to a shakiness and something lost.
When I was a little girl, I would make my way down the steep staircase on school mornings and peer around the corner to the kitchen. The ceiling-length fluorescent light blinded me, but I would look for Dad who would be in his chair at the end of the table. I crawled up into his lap. Content. We didn’t talk. He just held me and let me wake up. It didn’t take long before my eyes adjusted, and I was ready to hop down and eat breakfast.
The one who gives you the foundation of feeling safe is the one you owe much. And the one you miss much.
Cheryl Strayed, in “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail,” speaks of grief as a wilderness through which she had to find her own way. She hikes the mountainous trail for about 100 days. Mostly alone. Trying to work out her mother’s death from cancer at a young age. At the beginning of her journey in Southern California, she tricks her fears into subsiding by repeating to herself, “Who is tougher than me?” By the time her summer-long hike gets her to Oregon, mantras aren’t needed. She senses that, “You’re safe in this world.”
The world is uncontrollable and wild. The only thing we can navigate, with the grace of God, is our own life. And it’s enough. The good decisions. The bad decisions. Lessons learned from both. Accepting it all, feeling stronger and safer, and having the courage to live our truth.
Dad was 81 when he passed away. He lived a good and long life. As did Mom. That piece of it does help. In some ways I feel guilty for this big grief of mine for parents who reached old age, while others are taken when they’re far too young. But grief doesn’t care about age.
There’s a passage from Corinthians that’s many times used for weddings, but I reflect on it during times of loss. “It bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”
I’ve come to understand that as long as love doesn’t end, grief won’t completely end either. And that kind of love, in this world we’re navigating, is a good thing.