Where’s the Grief?

Today I attended a memorial service for a man that I never met. I know his widow, she is a dear friend of my Mother’s. I know that he was a good friend of my father, that matters to me. I also know that he died of Parkinson’s, as did my father. What a terrible thing to have in common.

The church was packed when I arrived today. The bells of the 180-year-old church clanged, reverberating through our little town as I walked in.
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Just in time. On any given Sunday I could walk in and find a seat in the third row. For today’s memorial, with friends and family coming from all over in addition to the regulars, seating was limited and I ended up in the back row.

After the Reverend delivered his opening remarks and I suffered through 2 hymns and a responsive reading the first speaker, the oldest son, was invited to say some words about his deceased father. My first reaction was the admiration of his courage. He was attempting what I would not. I remember wanting badly to deliver my father’s eulogy but I was self-aware enough to know that I wouldn’t get through it, I would get too emotional. I wrote it, my Reverend read it on my behalf, and I sat there and cried. At words that I wrote. Pathetic. But I can only imagine the train wreck I would have been if I attempted to do it. So with great sympathy, a sense of kinship with a man I had never met for what we now had in common, and a curious ear, I listened to his remarks. It was a touching speech, he used a lot of big words, he referenced a lot of things that he admired about his Dad, what he learned from him and how they were different. Something just didn’t sit well with me, something was missing. May I be struck dead by lightning if I’m a shit for thinking this but, where was the emotion? Have I set the bar so high in my own mind about eulogizing fathers that I am actually grading his performance? Shaking my head and quietly dismissing that crazy notion I still don’t know why it bothers me that this guy didn’t cry or tear up a little.
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My mother cared for my father as Parkinson’s ravaged his body and reduced him to a withered shell. The last 3 years were awful. My mother didn’t cry that much at the funeral, but she’s not a crier. We are a family of “bottle-it-up-and-snap-someday” personalities. When she began dating a mere 6 months after his death I struggled with it. When I asked her how she could date so soon she said that she did her mourning while he was still alive. That his passing was expected and just the final step. I don’t get it but it’s her process. With this in mind, I waited patiently in line to pay my regards to the family and when I met him I congratulated him on his remarks. I mentioned that his dad and my dad were friends and both had the same disease. He gave me a big smiley thank you, which threw me off, and I asked him how he was able to deliver it without breaking down. I was clear that it wasn’t a criticism, only that I could never have done it without breaking down. He didn’t have an answer. Maybe Mom was right. He watched his father suffer for years so maybe he was just ready for it. But, here’s the kicker, so did I. And I was still an emotional, blubbering mess when my father died.

The first time I discovered my fear of speaking in public was at my Grandfather’s funeral in 2002. I offered to write his eulogy and I really made an effort to capture the man. He was 92 so I celebrated his life and spoke of some fond memories. As I spoke I was sad of course, he was a major influence on me, but as I said, he was 92. I focused on his best traits. His wicked sense of humor, his honesty, and integrity, his simple way of life were well known and celebrated. Still, I barely got through it, I broke down. The small crowd didn’t care, their takeaway was how much like him I was (an indisputable truth). It was a learning experience.

When my dad passed I knew that I would be the one to memorialize him. As I stated earlier, I wrote a long eulogy, perhaps too long, about his influence on me, his defining qualities of being a great friend, co-worker, dad, husband. I spared nothing, as I do in my blog, telling of my regrets at things left unsaid and how he simply deserved better. It brought the house down. As people filed past me, one even said, in tears, “I have to go and call my father now.” Moved and grateful as I was, I didn’t have a big smile on my face. I was a wreck. I didn’t want kudos on my speech, I wanted my father back.

Now I sit here and wonder if the son, the man who gave a beautiful but emotionless speech, had the same experiences I did? The ones that you would never talk about in a memorial because people don’t want to hear it.

I wonder if he ever heard his father cry because he knew, that no matter how hard he tried to hang on, he wouldn’t be around to celebrate his next wedding anniversary with his lifelong sweetheart? They were married 49 years.

I wonder if he ever saw his father on the toilet, unable to wipe himself and too weak to stand, trying (he could barely speak) to get me to get his caretaker to wipe his ass because he did not want me to see him like that?

I wonder if his father ever pulled him close and in a forced whisper say, “Gun…key” in his ear, imploring him to go downstairs, find the key to the cabinet, get a gun and let him fucking end it?

I wonder if he has loose ends, things he wanted to say but couldn’t, or didn’t. Apologies or thank you’s?

I wonder if he is haunted by feeding the man who taught him to use a spoon, his dinner through one?

I wonder if he wants to scream at the top of his lungs “Fuck YOU Parkinson’s” like I do. Every day.

I wonder if it’s just me. Maybe I’m just being a jerk. We all grieve differently and we all handle things differently. His father died a week ago, I lost mine 5 years ago. Why am I the emotional one?

15 thoughts on “Where’s the Grief?”

  1. I lost my mother in August 2016. When she passed an older sibling took it in stride. Just a month before she passed they told me, “Look, I’ve come to terms with Mom’s death. I have a peace about it.” That felt so, so cold and unfeeling to me. And while I blubbered like a baby at her funeral and I have been a wreck ever since, this sibling seems totally unfazed. They’re fine. They seem really, really fine. I don’t know why that is. I don’t know if they’re really a-okay or if they’re just better at pushing it down and pretending it doesn’t hurt. Either way, I cope through being an emotional mess some days. And they don’t. And it is what it is.

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  2. This post breaks me into pieces. I feel your pain, your grief, and I felt my own in similar ways. I lost my my Mom 30 years ago and it has never gotten easier. My sister spoke at her memorial, I had to be held in my chair because I was sobbing so uncontrollably. It was the first time I learned how differently people grieve, how differently we all respond to sorrow and loss. It is such a complicated thing, such a tangle. Living life from an emotional place is devastation, but also joy.

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    1. It was a deeply personal post. I speak of my dad often in my posts. This was one of the few spontaneous posts I have done, I had an observation and just felt compelled to write about it. I’m glad you got something from it

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  3. Because you’re an emotional man and the nature of your relationship was such that it doesn’t get better with time.
    My grandpa had Parkinson, so I know what you’re talking about. The amazing thing about him was his lust for life. He was bed-ridden for 3 fucking years, my granny being his everything. Not once did I hear either of them complain or say life was not worth living. I know myself, man. I’d be down, down, down….But, not them. They just kept on smiling till the last day of their lives.

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  4. Everyone handles grief in their own way, but isn’t interesting how, clinically observant we can be about things when we’re at a service for someone we aren’t emotionally attached to, especially if we’ve already been there. I’ve caught myself doing exactly the same thing you describe here. I am sure a lot of people do too. Having said that, you’ve described in very visceral terms why you question your motives, and it’s obvious you still miss your dad. He must have been a hell of a guy

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      1. My dad was 96 when he passed, but he was sharp as a tac and was still physically capable for his age. Plus he went quickly, which is what he wanted, so all of that made it hard to feel really bad about his passing, other than the fact we missed him terribly

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  5. I lost my father in 2005…I won’t lie…it doesn’t get easier when you have a father like we did, Billy. You just keep doing what you do because that is how he taught you. But I can assure you that you honor him. I feel it in your words.

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