The Lighthouse

the lighthouse

21 November 2008


My dad is dying.

That's a rather bald statement. I'm not trying to garner sympathy; only, this fact is profoundly filling every aspect of my life. Anything I write now is going to be influenced by how he is doing, how mom is coping, and how the rest of us are holding up at any given moment.

At various times I have broken down on the shoulder of one friend or another; once I even inflicted rather embarrassingly personal grief on a virtual stranger - virtual in the cyber sense of the word. I wonder why I did this? I'm not usually one to share my life with people I don't know. I resent personal questions from any but my close friends, and have ready-made answers for when I find myself in those situations (such as a new job) where people want to know my story. So, to find myself now telling everyone this very awkward fact, and shamelessly leaking tears in public is...well...baffling.

Grief isn't meant to be kept private, I don't think. It can't be healthy to deny loss and sorrow and anger and all the other emotions that ride tandem with grief. Of course it wouldn't do to assume the fetal position while doing the marketing, or rage at the theatre usher; there is a proper time and place for public expression of grief.

I am a person of faith, by which I mean to say I am Catholic. I am fortunate to have faith, to believe in something much bigger than myself and my own small hopes, dreams and fears. I believe that God is loving and merciful; that He loves me and my father; that He has been preparing Pop for some time now for his final moment, to make a good and holy death. I know with all my heart that we go on to Something More, and that God promises eternal life with Him.

I thought having all that knowledge would be a consolation when faced with losing a loved one. It isn't, really. There is the grief on one side all by itself, and over there, somewhere separate and apart is the consolation. At this stage, anyway, I can't seem to hold on to both at the same time.

Looking at strangers, I find myself wondering if they, too, have a black hole of sorrow within? Does the human heart expand in order to contain all this emotion, or is that the purview of another organ? So many times in the past when friends and colleagues endured the death of a loved one, I would feel sorry for them, would pray for them and the dearly departed, but had no idea how very changed they were by the experience. From now on, I will want to envelop each one in a big hug...just holding on tight, so they can feel the constriction of me trying to keep them from falling apart.

As for the public expression of grief, we are far too clinical, cold, and puritanical in North America. I should say Canada, as I don't really know if we are the same as Americans in this issue. We ought not close ourselves in our homes, bearing up stoically and stiff-upper-lipped. We need a few days, at least, to really weep and wail and gnash and keen, without apology. After that we can be expected to conduct ourselves more seemly in public in order to not discommode others.

If you happen to see me in the store, can of tomato soup in hand with tears dripping off my chin, offer me a tissue and a smile, or just quietly walk away, but think kindly of me either way: a breaking heart is a painful thing.

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