My dad died on April 17, 2011. This is the anniversary month. Obviously, it’s not a celebratory anniversary like others. No mushy, look how far we’ve come babe, cards are exchanged on death anniversaries. There’s no looking forward to the next eight, like with a wedding anniversary.
However, anyone with a deceased loved one is well aware of this lack-luster anniversary.
When April rolls around, I always begin dwelling more on my dad’s passing. This year, however, it’s already been in the forefront of my mind. A dear friend lost her father recently. Everyone’s relationships and loss and reactions are unique, of course. Nonetheless, walking beside my friend as she’s been thrust onto this path has pushed my consciousness to my early days of grappling with the shock and haze.
Is haze a feeling?
Haze was certainly a state I went through, and have seen on others. I’m sure there’s some psychological term for it, and I seem to recall being told that it’s a defense mechanism to protect the psyche.
In my layman’s terms, though, the haze helps you ease into the void that is is the “new normal” in your life.
The haze numbs just enough to allow you to get out of bed (albeit at noon) and make funeral arrangements. The haze mutes you so that when everyone keeps going about their daily life, you don’t scream at their audacity to live life when you are now fatherless.
Seriously, I wanted to accost strangers at the grocery store and shake them for buying bread like this was just another Tuesday. I wanted to tell everyone every where I went that I no longer had a daddy.
I was 35 with a husband and kids, but I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready to not have a daddy and people needed to know that! They needed to know that I still needed him to call and ask to speak to two toddlers who didn’t want to or know how to properly conduct a telephone call. I’d roll my eyes at these requests and try to hold the phone close enough to my daughter as she bounced on the couch and dutifully repeated the words I fed her. “Hi, Popa!” “I miss you too.” “I’m playing dinosaurs.”
I’d run after the boy and try to at least get him to say “I love you, Popa” loud enough for Daddy to hear and chuckle over. He probably knew what an inconvenience it was for me to try to get the children to talk to him, but that probably just made him chuckle all the harder. Pay backs are a bitch, some might say. Now, my dad wouldn’t use that kind of language, but he’d sure chuckle and that was the same thing.
In the early days, the haze was so thick I’d think about those phone calls and pick up the phone intent on calling him. Somehow, in the distortion of the haze I thought I could simultaneously feel the pain of his loss and call and tell him about it.
The haze hadn’t let me wade out far enough into the depths of grief to comprehend that those two things couldn’t be done.
People felt awkward around me. I could feel it through the haze. I didn’t help. I wanted to talk about my dad, a lot. I could tell others didn’t know what to say about my stories. They looked anxious, like they were holding a delicate knickknack, which they would rather put away safe behind glass.
I have a proclivity for speaking in stories anyhow. The ebb and flow of casual conversation has never been a strength. During the haze, my social inadequacies were magnified. I wanted to tell stories, even the worst, icky parts of taking Daddy off life support, but no one wanted to listen to those stories. (My dad’s advice on what to say to the grieving can be found here.)
I had no interest in anything other than my loss. All I had, or so it felt, were my stories. Moreover, talk of anything else would crack the haze and chill me with the reality that time was still in motion.
Some people get mad at God. Some a person or force that caused the death. Some the deceased himself.
I was most angry with time.
I was mad that it couldn’t be bothered to slow down enough for me to wrap my head around what had just happened. I needed more time with my dad. He never got to visit us in south west Florida. I needed more time to grieve before having to talk about something other than him.
I needed less of the new time without him. Time wasn’t giving me anything! Callously, it just kept moving forward dragging me in my head fog along for the ride.
Over the next 12 months, the haze came and went. Time brought birthdays, holidays, and random afternoons when I’d forget (yes, straight up forget) he was gone. For two blissful seconds, I would pick up the phone to call him. Then, I would end up in a pile of tears, cursing the haze for not being there to cushion this fall.
This April makes eight years he’s been gone. It seems like such a long time, but the anniversaries always bring a bit of the haze and time hating with it.
On the 17th, I’ll remind myself how he would say with regards to difficult times that you can laugh about it or cry about it, but he prefers to laugh. I will decide to laugh that day. I will tell the children some of his silly sayings, like answering the phone with “Yellow?” Their memories of him are just my stories, but they oblige me. I will embrace enough of the haze to get by and then, tuck it away for another time its services are needed.
I respect the haze. I know I can’t live there, but it has good intentions. I appreciate that.
For the children’s spring break last month, I visited his grave. I did it without thinking or preparing. I walked up to the large grey stone with my maiden name at the top without considering I might need the haze. My eyes immediately caught fire, and I instinctively tried to fight them to no avail.
No, no, no, I thought, I’ve got this. I’m good. I just swung by cause I “should.” It’s just a place. I don’t need to cry anymore. Damn it, where’s the haze?
But it was too late. I had gone in without my safety net and my eyes and nose both flooded despite my attempts to dam up the emotional release.
So, I did what people do. With a raspy, quivering voice, I spoke to a rock. A rock that represented all that the haze tries to cushion for me. I rubbed my eyes and nose like an overtired toddler and let it all out.
After, I stood shaking and in awe of the depth of grief and love. Time will continue to do what it does, but as long as I love my daddy, there will be grief. And try as it might, the haze cannot shield all the pain, and time cannot erase the love.
So we are left to cry, to feel hazy, but most importantly to keep loving.