I was sitting at a table toward the front of the room. I asked a relative to sit next to me because she had big hair, and she could mask the pictures of my father that were being projected on the screen.
The memorial. It wasn’t an out of body experience, but it was something that happened, and someone I became that day.
I sat and heard men in their 60’s talk about their friend, and memories and sadness, and watched people cry at the microphone.
It was at UCLA. My father was a Doctor and Professor and when he died, they offered to host his services. The room was packed with people left and right. Some I knew, others, no idea. We had more than ten speakers and I was scheduled to be last.
When it came my turn, I stood up, walked hard, and it became comedy central at the Apollo. I looked out at a crowd of mourning individuals, and gave a speech unlike anything I expected to deliver.
Days before the ceremony, I sat at my desk with pen and paper and just sat there. I’m not someone who sits down to write, writing has always come to me. I think of something and I write it. But this was different. This was forced writing, and it just wasn’t happening, so I gave up on trying.
I walked into the memorial with a napkin that said “Bicycle” and “Family.” I opened with a story about my Dad teaching me how to ride a bike, and ended with the reassurance that despite the fact that the pillar and backbone of my family was gone, we were strong and we had each other. Two sisters and my mother left behind.
What I said in the middle of the speech? No idea. It was off the cuff, but apparently a huge hit. I wasn’t a robot, but I managed to pull someone in me together to be the last one to speak at his memorial.
Then I waited. I sat and waited in fear, wondering when it would hit me. When was I going to break.
It took six months.
I was sitting in my cube at work and had a dream that morning about my father disappearing in the middle of the kitchen. It was weird and I thought nothing much of it. So I went to work and went about my business and around 10 a.m. I started to shake, and burst into tears. It was bad. I had to figure out how to exit the building and get on my Vespa without the world watching. Damn you for not having sunglasses on hand, is all I could think about at that moment. But I made it home. And that “stage” of grieving was thankfully over.
A year later I would listen to Jimmy Buffet, Waylon Jennings, and Willie Nelson, and cry and cry and cry.
Another year later I became angry. Really angry, which is the stage I am in now.
So, having said all that. There are so “stages” of grief. Just like we come into this world with individual makeup, we exit this world individually. So, when I think of these stages people talk about, I balk and laugh. There are no stages of grieving, so don’t feel bad if you don’t fit into some box of grieving that people have imposed on the world. Here we go:
- When my dad died I was not in denial. I accepted it because death is death.
- Then I became depressed, not angry. I got angry way later.
- I still don’t understand this term, or how it really applies to any of this. I’m not really one that shoulda coulda woulda, but, if I was pressed to give an example, I do recall that I didn’t say, or do, anything when my dad stopped texting me as much, or coming downtown to see me. He was isolating more, and I felt like something may be off for like a second, but that was it.
- The whole thing is depressing. Depression can be experienced in a state of number one, denial, number two anger, so it doesn’t make sense to make this the fourth stage when you feel it from day one in multiple fashions.
- Peace? I don’t think there is ever a time of acceptance or peace when you lose a loved one.
When my parent died I looked to books for answers. Nothing made any sense to me, and I came to the conclusion that the stupidest thing anyone can do is put together a map for dealing with grief.
Having said that, I’m at an age where friends parents are starting to pass, and I feel their pain and search for understanding, and tell them my keenest insight: Dealing with death is unique to every individual. However it unfolds, it is yours to keep, and own.