Monday, April 12, 2010

You Don't Just Get Over It

I woke around 1:30 in the morning, confused as to where I was. I found my way to the bathroom and then back to bed where I fell back into the dream where I had left off. Even in my dream I felt disoriented. I woke again around three, tossing and turning until I stirred enough to find release from the circuitous dream that seemed to be going on forever. The dream details slipped away but the residue of what I felt seemed to lay as thick as the spring pollen on the glass tables on my porch. I am realizing that I am just beginning the process. The loss of someone you love is not something you "get over".

My father died quietly, quickly, almost peacefully the evening of March 24th after 15 months of living with cancer. Hospice had just that day brought a hospital bed and set it up in the living room of the small ranch house that he shared with my step-mother for 36 years. For months he had found great comfort and ease to his pain whenever he rested in his butterfly chair. But it had become obvious that getting in and out of that resting place was becoming too difficult. So, they brought in the bed and hooked up an oxygen tank and even rolled in a wheel chair. All of these were to make things easier. My brother emailed a picture of Daddy sitting up in that bed and smiling as usual, making the best of what was given to him. I looked at the picture and cried as I knew we had all turned the corner.

My sister came that night to spend the night, giving my brother a chance to go home to his family. My other sister was to come the next day and I was scheduled to drive over on the weekend. That evening they fixed grits and livermush for supper. Daddy planned to have a cookie with whipped cream for dessert but felt too tired to sit at the table and thought he would rest in the fancy bed for a while. While my sister stepped out of the room to talk to her daughter on the phone, Daddy tried to adjust the bed to a comfortable position. Comfort came soon, but not as any of us expected. He cried out as he struggled to breathe and my sister and step-mother sat with him. They held his hands, told him they loved him, and then he was gone. They said it was so obvious he was no longer in his body.

Within hours we were all together, filling their small house past a fire marshal's comfort zone. For the next 10 days there was a constant ebb and flow of grown children and step-children and their spouses, grandchildren and greatgrands, my step-mother's sister and brother and their families, business partners, and friends. Food and flowers appeared daily and we all felt the rhythm of love gently sustaining us.

We moved through the days slowly, having decided to wait until the following Saturday to have the memorial service. We needed time together, time to think, time to remember, time to let things settle a bit in our hearts, and time to turn. Also we needed time to get the more than 40 family members to town. We spaced out the tasks at hand and moved like a flock of birds from place to place. Interspersed amongst the "must dos" we tried to maintain a familiar rhythm complete with saying Daddy's mealtime blessing 3 times a day and watching Carolina basketball, complete with the "pom-pom dance".

The week before our father's memorial service was also Holy Week. And as though that was not enough to buoy us, spring came too. We watched the foliage of the trees begin to unfold from their buds and the  Bradford pear, dogwoods and redbud trees splashed the neighborhood with color. The day we went to the cemetery to pick out a plot we were led to a resting place under a fully blossomed cherry tree. Joy and sorrow mingled. Life and death gave birth to life again. What was would be no more but the promise of life eased us onward.

The day we gathered to celebrate my father's life was indeed that...a celebration. We filled up half of one side of the church with family. The mystery of the sweet root of life was experienced as we participated in the service honoring this wonderful man we called Husband, Daddy, Bonus-Dad, Grandaddy, Great Grandaddy, Uncle, Brother-in-law, and friend. Then in true Witherington fashion, we went to our lake house and celebrated some more. We sat on the porch and we enjoyed one another's company. We ate barbeque. We drank beer and red wine. We chased the children across the lawn. we sat on the pier. We looked across the lake at the view that has changed little since the year my Daddy bought that lot 45 years ago.

                               Now, we begin to live on...though differently. You don't get over it.


  1. Love you, Mama. I have been thinking of you almost daily and wishing you peace.

    "Come you weary and He will give you rest
    Come you who mourn, lay on His breast
    Christ who died, risen in Paradise
    Giver of mercy, Giver of Life
    Sing to Jesus His is the throne
    Now and forever,
    He is the King of Heaven.
    Sing to Jesus, we are His own. "
    ---Fernando Ortega

    Love you, love you, love you!

  2. eight months after my father died i had a dream that i remember as though i just woke up from it. he and i watched some tv in a room unlike any in the house in which my sister and i spent our childhoods. he said nothing, and looked at the screen rather blankly and remotely. we got up, and suddenly we were in the hallway from the kitchen to the backdoor of our house; everything looked exactly as i remember from the 1950s and '60s. we went outside to the yard, and somewhere around the clothesline-pole he let go of my hand, looked directly ahead, and kept walking. i briefly tried to get him to say something when he released my hand, but let him go, knowing he was speaking a silent language. he was saying goodbye.
    a peaceful, quiet, even dignified dream, from which i woke up in almost violent tears. somehow i got myself to the library to work on my dissertation prospectus. i spent as much of the day in tears as not. i hoped the woman on whom i had a crush at the time would show up, but she didn't. i had the whole history study room to myself.
    people can help, but they can't live the pain for you. and even sharing of experiences, as i'm doing, has only limited utility. each loss is ours, not someone else's, maybe like and maybe not but never a clear example for how to take the next step. you have to do that with your own faith and/or doubts.
    a dominican friar from new orleans, living in raleigh after katrina and a few days from his own death, impressed several who sat with him by his musings on the life to come. what do we really know, he asked, beyond what faith tells us? and how do we know faith tells us the truth--we believe it, but how do we verify it? very simply: by dying. he found the prospect exciting, approached it as an adventure. your dad entered that portal on his own terms. and you all marked his passing on yours. i count you all fortunate.