I was eight years old when my grandfather passed away. My grandmother called our neighbor to tell us the bad news, because she couldn’t trust herself on the phone. I understand now why she did that, the actual process of telling people my Dad had died was the worst part of this entire week.
At my grandfather’s funeral I remember feeling excited because I was going to see my extended family that we didn’t visit very often. I also remember feeling absurdly pleased with my new shiny black shoes. Those little bits of happiness felt wrong though, when everyone around me was so very sad. So I buried away my tiny joys under a big covering of guilt.
As the funeral began I realized in my own small, eight year old way, that my grandfather was gone. He would never again take me to Dairy Queen, or hug me tight. His special recliner chair would remain empty at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Feeling an huge loss, I began to cry. I cried so long and so loud that my Dad carried me out. He promptly found a me an Orange Crush soda pop (in the actual glass bottle) and I remember drinking it in between hiccups and sobs while sitting on the kitchen counter at the church building. I sat there and tried to make sense of the world around me.
My father’s memorial service is today and while the world doesn’t make much more sense than it did when I was eight, I am a little more equipped to deal with it all. I’ve learned a few things in the past thirty years that have helped.
First of all, you should be happy to see your family and friends, even during sad times. Especially during sad times. Never feel guilty for that. Reminiscing, crying, and laughing together with the people you love most is the best way to remember someone who is gone.
Also, a little retail therapy can lighten your load. My son is nine years old, and he keenly feels the loss of his Papa, but his new suit brings just a little bit of sunshine into his sad heart. Just like my new dress makes me feel as pretty as my Dad always said I was.
Another lesson I’ve learned is that sometimes you need to remove yourself from the crowd, drink an Orange soda (or, even better, eat a chocolate covered Oreo ball), and grieve by yourself. So when my mother asks for time alone, I will respect her wishes. Even though I’m going to worry about her.
Lastly, I’ve learned that even though there will be an empty chair at Thanksgiving and Christmas and all those other days in between, the people who have passed on are never far from us. They will continue to love us and support us from a place we just can’t see.
And knowing that my sweet Daddy is somewhere watching over me and my loved ones is a great comfort to my broken heart.