Five Stages of Grief


When my mom called after eleven pm. that Wednesday night, I knew why she was calling. It was officially Emergency Call Hour in our house and my dad was in hospice care, taking in very little sustenance, breathing irregularly. It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what she would say when I picked up the phone.

But I was literally shocked. As I listened to her cracking voice tell me what I knew she would, I felt a shock wave go through my body as if there had been an actual physical blow to my nervous system.

As if.

When I finally drifted off to sleep that night, after many hours staring at the ceiling thinking basically nothing, feeling mostly everything, I dreamt about him. In my dreams that night, my dad was young, walking and talking, strong and vibrant. I woke up completely unrested and stupidly confused.

As I adjusted my eyes to the light of day, I spent a ridiculous amount of time wondering: which was the dream?


Z is in a "not fair" phase. She is very interested in equality, especially when it comes to relative cookie sizes, number of cheese crackers and amount of Christmas presents. She keeps track and expects that everyone should get the same amount. She wants everything to be fair.

I am feeling a new kind of empathy for her these days.

One day this week, a friend told me that her dad is coming to help out with her kids while her husband is away on a work trip. Another announced her intention to throw her dad a surprise birthday party this year. Then I read a lovely blog post, where the author posted photos of her dad loving up her children. All I could think in these circumstance was "it's not fair." My girls have lost their grandfathers. Both of them. And they are young enough that they may not remember their grandfathers as anything but photographs in an album.

On that day, the one where it seemed everyone was talking about my dad this and my dad that, I was shamefully pissed at them. But my anger is not limited just to happy people who still have their fathers. Today I am angry at cigarette companies and their deep, cancer-lined pockets. I'm angry at my dad for ever smoking.

Mostly, I'm angry at the universe for being so indifferent.


I go to the gym a little more often these days and stay for a little longer. When I feel tired or less than inspired by a workout, I flash to an image from last summer, when my dad was trying to get stronger after a long bout of pneumonia. I helped him do some basic strengthening moves and it was so hard for him to do a squat down into his chair.

At the gym, I push myself deeper into squats, I suffer through an extra push up or five.

I try to put myself in another class of person entirely. As if fit people never get cancer. As if strong people never die.

Or maybe I'm just interested in feeling a different kind of suffering for a change.


After the gym, I eat a snack, a healthy one to start, nuts or an apple or something. Then suddenly, unthinkingly, I am on a veritable tour of all things chocolate and buttery in my pantry. I taste little. I feel nothing. My stomach turns when I am done.

What does it matter? Why not eat all the crap I want? In the end, we're all just ashes and I won't care if the roll above my pants ever disappeared.

A slightly larger pile of ashes doesn't sound so terrible.


Every day, I read my dad's obituary at least once. Every day, I refine and practice what I'm planning to say at his memorial service next Saturday. Every day, the preparations, the carefully crafted words, make it seem a little more real.

My dad is gone.


Jessica said...

This is beautifully written. I'm so, so sorry for your loss, J. Still thinking of you.

Cortney said...

Hugs and comfort to you. I'm so sorry you lost your dad.

charming gardener said...

Nope. Not fair. And I am sorry you've lost your dear dad.

Sarah said...

I knew this post was coming but I'm still so sad to read it. I'm so sad for you and yours.

Pamela Hunt Cloyd said...

I am so sorry!! I can't even imagine what this must be like although your amazing prose gives me insight. You and Z are right. It's not fair. Lots of love to you and your family.

momof3 said...

Once again, I am so sorry! It sucks doesn't it? I went through and am still going through so many of those stages. The feeling that "it's not fair" may never go away unfortunately. It really isn't fair and it's Ok to feel it.

Hugs to you!

twisterfish said...

So sorry. Thinking of you.

Amy said...

Big hugs.

Erica said...

Even though it's been almost seven years since I held my mother in my arms as she died, this post brought it all back as if it happened yesterday.

I know it probably won't help right now, but please know that it does get better. You will always miss your dad. There will always be weird things that give you a visceral memory of him that hit you like a punch to the gut. (I once sat on the floor in the salad dressing aisle of the grocery store and bawled.) But with time, the hole in your heart won't be so raw and open. It will always be there, but it won't always hurt so much.

I'm sending you all my love.

Michelle said...

Lots and lots of hugs and healing thoughts to you. I wish I could do more.

Amy said...

This is so hard. I'm so deeply sorry for what you are suffering. All my love to you. And my advice is to keep writing, if you can. You know I understand, as much as anyone is able.

Shannon said...

I've been thinking of you every day. Checking your blog every day... knowing that with your silence you were suffering excruciating pain, knowing that when your words finally came, they would be filled with an ache so deep, I almost couldn't stand to read them. I knew there would be no words to offer you that could possibly make anything any better. Nothing can. So, I offer you only the concern and love of a stranger-sister from afar, holding you and your family and your pain in my heart, for whatever it is worth. May the empty place in your heart stand as the living proof of what your Dad's life meant and what the loss of him leaves behind.

k said...

Thinking of you.

d e v a n said...

Oh honey, huge hugs.

Misha Leigh. said...

I'm just a stranger crying for you. But I am so sorry.

Doing My Best said...

This is so beautiful and heartbreaking. You and your family are still in my thoughts and prayers. (hugs)

Mama Bub said...

Oh J, I'm so sorry. None of this is fair.

Ginger said...

I am so, so sorry for your loss.

miyoko said...

oh hugs. yes i have days when i am driving around, or clothing shopping or doing things that my mom taught me to do, or loved doing with me and i get full of rage. i feel ROBBED! I feel like someone STOLE my mom from me, from everyone.

sometimes i just feel sad. i'll be doing one thing one moment and crying completely out of the blue the next. (just ask my yoga teacher)

the grief will morph. it will constantly change. it will sneak up on you and surprise you. but also it will make you powerful.

after hospice i didn't sleep well for weeks and weeks and weeks. i had spent so many nights listening for my mother breathing that i couldn't handle the silence.

it feels like the pain won't get better. it feels like while you don't want the pain anymore, you're strangely scared to let it fade because you don't want that person to fade as well.

the pain does fade. the memories help you through the day. there are days where my mom is so present i feel like i could talk to her and get an answer. instead of letting those days sadden me, i am trying to now see them as a gift.

i had such a great time seeing you today. seeing your mom and your brother, and your hubby and your kiddos. seeing the love. seeing exactly where you got all that you are. truly phenomenal. you are a lucky lady to have had so SO so much love, creativity, and life-crafting in your life. your parents serve as an example of doing what you love. gotta grab on to that and power through.

Alice said...

oh, oh, oh. i am so sorry. it is not fair, none of it, and i know knowing that doesn't help either. internet hugs for you and yours, big, big, internet hugs.

Swistle said...

All of us have either been down this road or else are headed down it. I'm grateful to you for writing about it.

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