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Grief Sneak Attacks
It's just a date on the calendar, right?
It jumps out at me every time it shows up. November 4th, the date my Dad died in 2010.
This time it was coffee creamer. I like that in my cup, because I like my coffee adulterated in every way possible - sweet, creamy, and with a snazzy flavor that would make an actual coffee drinker choke. My husband had gotten something that promised to taste a lot like vanilla cannoli, and I was eager to try it, but first I had to get at the foil covering under the pouring cap. As I went to twist the cap I saw it. “Best by 04/NOV/2023.” The 4th - this year it will be thirteen years Dad is gone.
Grief sneaks up on me that way. Usually the thought of Daddy is sweet, a dear memory, something that would have made him laugh, etc. But this tapped straight into the sad part, that Dad-shaped void that never gets smaller, and never gets filled.
When my Dad died he’d been on Palliative Care for two years, and had started on Hospice about nine months earlier. Given those circumstances we had had a lot of time to get used to the idea, and know that we were going to be parted with him. The time we had was special in so many ways, and difficult in many more. We were geographically far apart, my siblings and me in the Northeast USA and my parents in Florida. I went back and forth as much as I could, keeping an eye on things and helping make sure things were in order. Mom had the big job of creating some Normal for the two of them, when things were as Not Normal as they can be.
I don’t think about my Dad all the time, or with pain and sadness. He pops into my head whenever I see a pelican in photos or a video, I say ‘Hi Daddy!’ because he loved seeing pelicans and the way they would sail along on the breeze just above the water and so I have kind of assigned them as his Spirit Animal. When packing up the home they shared in Florida for 15 amazing years, I saved one pelican figurine to have around, and I see it numerous times a day at the top of the stairs and just outside my study.
That’s a reminder, but I put it there so it’s not sneaky.
The grief that we don’t expect, driving by the hospital where someone we love died, hearing a song that connects us, a smell that brings back a feeling we’d forgotten a bit, washes up on the shore of our subconscious into the now. We can’t prepare for this kind of sneaky grief, but we also can’t avoid it. And we don’t have to avoid it, because this surprise of feeling also means that we loved and were loved. Grief is love looking for somewhere to land.
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