The owner of the coffee place sat down with me yesterday, and it’s one of those things, one of the interactions with people I’m getting used to now. It doesn’t make it easier, and it doesn’t make things better, but the fact that I’m used to it now, and getting immune to it, tells me I’m getting over the initial shock.
He tells me he lost his Dad, when he was thirteen, to ALS, and it was like watching someone fully awake and aware die slowly. He was close, very close, to his Dad, and watching it happen in slow motion made it worse than he thought it could be. His Dad never missed an event, never missed a football practice, never flinched at being a dad the way some guys do. A few years after his Dad died, his mother came down with lung cancer, and the story was familiar.
He took his Mom to every appointment, every treatment, they sang to songs on the radio until she no longer knew the words to any of the songs anymore, and then he was there when she died.
I’ve stopped pretending that I don’t cry in public, if you can’t stand to let people see you cry you can’t stand to let them see you live. This started out as something about me, but turned into one man’s journey of losing his parents. I needed to hear it. I needed the details of how someone else dealt with the same process, and I needed someone to tell me I did the right thing the right way, and that anything less than riding it into the ground will buy you all the regret you will ever need for the rest of your life.
It’s different now, two months past the last time I saw her. Now I can talk to people about what they have lost and feel that connection to their lives. I can feel the sorrow and pain of someone else and instead of just hurting, I now feel like there’s something very common and very human in this. It is living when you aren’t the one dying. It’s the ability to go home, look at a bottle of wine, and decide not to drink, because you want to sit down and say something instead. You want to feel something, you want to tell people it’s okay to feel what is, because it is a sign of life, not an echo of death.
Grief isn’t linear, like a broken leg or a surgical wound. The progress you make isn’t measurable except in the things you do, every single day, that makes each day something you lived through. One at a time, each is different, some better, some worse than others, but there is nothing but that day, and what you do about it is a choice, mostly, sometimes.
Yesterday I found solace in listening to someone else’s sorrow, and telling them I was there not long ago, and yeah, you did it right, you did the right thing the right way, and it does still hurt.
What else is there? If you ever want to leave that place alive, you have to be there for other people.
Mike writes regularly at his site: The Hickory Head Hermit.
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