Monday, February 22, 2010

Bereavement

I’m up and it’s only 2:30 a.m., happen to catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. In a shiva house the mirrors are covered, for the most part, for that first week of mourning following the passing of a first degree relative. There are all kinds of superstitious reasons, frankly I’m not interested in them. All I know is that one of the towels fell off the bathroom mirror and there I am, looking at me, and it isn’t pretty.

Has it aged me, losing my father? Or should we say, wizened me. Both right. It is a new experience, not at all like I thought it would be. It feels as if I’ve been hit in the back of the head with a baseball bat, still, over a week later, and that I’m in some kind of daze. It is surreal, detached.

We call it Bereavement, a V code, V62.82. Thankfully I have very few of the symptoms that distinguish bereavement from Major Depressive Episode. I haven’t got the guilt over what I didn’t do, no morbid preoccupation with death, no marked psychomotor retardation (although driving has been a little scary, haven't quite got the coordination back). No hallucinations, although my dreams, really scary.

And sure, it’s hard to sleep, and it is very early in the morning. I throw on a heavy FBI sweatshirt, one that my youngest son bought on his senior trip to Washington, DC, take a tour downstairs to the kitchen. I haven’t been home in a few days, have stayed overnight with my mom. It is traditional to choose a site for visitation, so my brother and I, without ever discussing it, have been at her home for the week, receiving visitors.

It is the flip of being a therapist, ideally. Being a therapist is all listening, or 80% listening, 20% feedback. Being a mourner, in my tradition, is talking or sitting quietly, but the mourner is the initiator. You don't impose your stuff on a mourner. Visitors come to sit with you for seven days, keep you company. It's about consolation, paying condolences.

You talk about whatever you want to talk about, so if you don’t want to discuss your father you don’t have to. But this is your chance, so to speak, to honor his memory, to publicize his goodness, his life experience.

We learn about life from the obituaries, at a certain age, and the eulogies.

I'm sitting near the toy box, see toys on top, not inside, remember putting them there, picking them up from the living room. My daughter and son came in for the funeral of their grandfather, one with an almost toddler, and after they left I didn’t want to put it all away. I look at the toys and it feels as if the visit was years ago.

I make a stab at reading from a novel, American Wife, by Curtis Sittenfeld, a wonderful treatment of Laura and George Bush, but can’t concentrate. There are a few newspapers on the table, but the words don’t penetrate. Something about winter Olympics and bobsleds. And of course, Tiger Woods. I think, I should blog about Tiger. Then I think, I should blog about my father.

He buried my brother 40 years ago to the day of his death. Isn't that amazing? Someone says to FD, Sometimes you get a glimpse of how things are actually run. It's not all random.

Here are some of the things I said at the funeral:
My father was such a complicated man that I can’t tell you if he would want me to make you cry, or not. I think not, because he was such a social guy. He would be happy to see such a nice crowd.

He simply had this magnanimous warmth, he greeted everyone as if he’d been waiting all week for you to stop by. Always someone knocking at the front door window, the telephone always ringing. Almost always for my Dad.

Last Wednesday morning, we're in the ER. He's in terrible pain. They put a gown on him, hook him up to an IV, his clothes are in a plastic bag. He’s on oxygen.

“You never saw me like this,” he says to me, for the hundredth time since he’s been so ill. This has been his mantra for months, now, “You never saw me like this.”

Every day it surprises him, embarrasses him that he’s weak, short of breath, and he’s embarrassed about it. Like many men of his generation who did not experience the hunger of the concentration camps, being physically weak is unfathomable. It isn’t who we are, he would say, for he encouraged us to take good care of ourselves, always. You eat right, lots of garlic, you sleep right. Your body cooperates. He has to remind me; this isn’t him.

And I tell him that it’s okay. I know who he is.

A story: Kovel, Poland: the end of the Russio-Poland War, 1920. Bands of marauding Cossacks, White Russians; they're raiding towns everywhere, especially the ones with Jews. They pillage and rape and kill babies with their bayonets, toss them into the air.

My grandfather is running an errand, probably buying something for the farm. My grandmother is in bed nursing my infant father. A gang of these animals bursts in on her. They see my grandmother, a beautiful woman, probably all of twenty, nursing. One says something, probably in Russian, to the others. They argue, banter back and forth. They stare at her, they look at my father, they look at one another. The toughest one says something. They shrug. And they leave.

My grandfather returns from the store, he hears what has happened, and he packs a few things, takes this little family to the forest at the outskirts of town for as long as it takes until the hooligans move on to another.

But you know, a small town family, they’re always waiting for another gang of Cossacks.

Probably in response to my grandmother’s fears, and being the oldest son, my father takes the protector role in life when he can, which is how I see him as a kid, watchful. Bigger than life, really. I’m a naturally fearful person, irrationally afraid of home invaders, as you know. But if he's home, I'm not afraid.
There are too many stories, a blog is just a blog. Okay, just a little more.
Things not everyone knows:

He was charitable, he couldn’t say no, especially not if people asked him for something directly. A total softy, if you looked my father in the eye, respected him for who he was, he would give you the universe if he could find a way. And honestly, he believed he owned that, too, that the world was created for him.

Which is how we’re supposed to think.

He would teach that it’s what’s inside that counts, not what you have. It’s not acquiring things, it’s living that counts, living fully. This in the heart of of the suburbs, a very material world.
The world is not going to be the same, not for a lot of people, without my father.

therapydoc

55 comments:

Jay said...

May his memory be for a blessing, and may you be comforted among the mourners of Zion.

Foster Ima said...

Ha-makom yenachem otach.

blognut said...

I'm so sorry for your loss. Your post really celebrates the way he lived his life and I bet you are truly proud of your dad.

Blessings to you and your family.

Lily said...

I have tears in my eyes reading these wonderful words about your father. He sounds like a wonderful man. You and your family are in my prayers.

linrob63 said...

The depth of your loss penetrates the words you have selected. Thank you so much for sharing yourself with us...and for sharing a small piece of him.

Syd said...

I am so sorry to hear about your father. The death of a parent is a hard thing. It seems that the sadness of such a loss goes on for a long time, and then, one day it lifts. And then just the love of the parent remains. Take care.

Jack said...

Baruch Dayan Emet.

Meansomething said...

Oh, therapydoc. I am so sorry to read of your loss. I have such a warm feeling about your father just from reading about him in your previous entries. May his memory be for a blessing. And may Gd comfort you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

With a full heart,
ms

Leora said...

So sorry to read of your loss. I hope you will tell more stories - I like to read them. Hamakom Yinachem. May you and your family know comfort.

Kerro said...

Therapydoc, I'm so sorry for your loss. Your love of your father, and his for you, is very touching. Thank you for sharing it with us. Please take care.

lynette said...

therapydoc, i am so sorry for your loss. you are blessed, it seems, like me, to have good memories and uncomplicated grief to accompany you in your mourning for your father.

my father passed away almost five years ago. my entire world shifted sideways -- i was 41 years old. i miss him every day. i have not regained my footing, still feeling unanchored and unsure five years later.

in my mind, it is a sign that he was truly a wonderful father, and i was lucky to love and be loved like this, as it seems from your words you were too.

i wish you and your family peace and the time to mourn and grieve as you should. i understand your loss.

peace,
lynette

Ivory said...

To know your father so well is a true blessing. My father was much the same in that he showed a tough exterior, yet he was often overwhelmed with compassion for others. I didn't see this until he was bedridden and in a nursing home. He's been gone for 5 years and I miss him as if he's been gone for a week. :'(

Lisa said...

TD, this was a beautiful post honoring your father. I lost my father 9 years ago, and your description of this early grief is so familiar. Thank you for putting it into words. May you be at peace with your grief, as it comes in waves, and shows up irrationally from time to time. My thoughts are with you.

Anonymous said...

I always read but rarely comment-my prayers are with you and your family during this painful time.

Lou said...

"It's not all random" Ain't that the truth.

My heart goes out to you. What a beautiful man...

Cat said...

sending you warm condolences on the loss of your father. May his memory be a source of comfort for you - when you are home alone or not.

porcini66 said...

May the warmth and blessing of the memories soon overtake the pain of his loss. I am so sorry to hear of this and will be thinking of you as you grieve for your wonderful father. Feel peace, as you can.

TechnoBabe said...

I have enjoyed hearing about your father occasionally in your posts. Coming from my childhood, reading about families is as close to family I get. I am still learning from your father through your words. You say "He would teach that it’s what’s inside that counts, not what you have. It’s not acquiring things, it’s living that counts, living fully."
Thank you for sharing your father with me. Please accept my condolences on a loss I cannot even fathom.

Shattered said...

I'm so sorry for your loss. Your father sounds like a wonderful man. I recently lost my father as well; it is an odd and transcending feeling. Take care...

Isle Dance said...

I am so very sorry, TherapyDoc. I cannot begin to imagine what you are going through. You were so very blessed to have your father. Such a protector. And the stories. Keep them alive. Because we can learn so much from them. From him. And you. I'm sending lots of love. But I still feel like these words don't help at all. Please take good care of you.

Alice C. said...

I feel a love for your father, although I have never met him. I feel I love him because I identify with your words, and they are so full of love. And because I love MY father, so I think I can imagine your pain. Your father sounds like an amazing soul, and I'm so sorry for your loss.

(Rob) Authentic Frontier Gibberish said...

These words of yours have been a blessing to me. Thank you for taking time, in the midst of your bereavement, to share with us.

Glimmer said...

Surreal is an apt description. It eases up. But I still feel that way, after 19 years. Some losses leave a hole that never really fills.

Kathie said...

Thank you for this beautiful post honoring your father.

I'm sure you know more than most anyone about bereavement, being a therapist and all. Still, I wanted to share a snipet of hope from C.S. Lewis, who chronicled his bereavement after the death his wife, Helen, in "A Grief Observed":
"... Something quite unexpected has happened. It came this morning early. For various reasons, not in themselves at all mysterious, my heart was lighter than it had been for many weeks. For one thing, I suppose I am recovering physically from a good deal of mere exhaustion. ... And suddenly, at the very moment when, so far, I mourned H. least, I remembered her best. Indeed, it was something (almost) better than memory; an instantaneous, unanswerable impression. To say it was like a meeting would be going too far. Yet there was that in it which tempts one to use those words. It was as if the lifting of the sorrow removed a barrier..."

You're blessed to be surrounded by love. So much love, it seems. May you find comfort in that. Love, and time, of course. My thoughts are with your family, especially your mom.


-Kathie

Willa said...

I am so sorry. I hope you and your family are coping the best that you can at this difficult time.

tuesday@11 said...

You've given so much to us,somehow,some way, I hope you feel the love pouring back into you as you grieve the loss of your beloved father.

Patty said...

Thank you so much for sharing these stories of your dear father with us. I am so sorry for your loss.

therapydoc said...

Wow, thanks to all of you. I do feel the love, as they say, and you validate my experience. This brings up the question of picking a therapist who has some experience in your problem area. Is it necessary? No, but it helps. I recently had a case of Major Affective Depression, a bereavement that wouldn't quit, and wonder if I was empathetic enough.

Anyway, you're all just wonderful. I'm very lucky. But the idea that bereavement can be uncomplicated?

Scratch that-- uh, uh. So sure, I'll tell some more stories. Right now it feels good slowly getting back to work. It's like riding a bike.

Ms. Finch said...

I'm so sorry, TD.
You know, I was chatting with my boss last week and offhandedly mentioned that my Dad had sent me valentines. And my boss started crying. My boss, a New Yorker, who is made of steel, was crying about my dad sending me valentines. It turns put she lost her dad about 25 years ago when she was about the age I am now. She just thought it was so sweet and it made her miss her dad all these years later.
I can't imagine the pain. I'm crying right now just thinking of it. And it makes me sad to know that even decades later, the pain of losing a dad can just flare up and be so raw and real.
Dads and daughters are something else. I know you will miss him for the years to come, but I'm glad you had the time you did. Take care.

Dr. Deb said...

You made me cry.

I send you my heartfelt condolences.

belovedparrot said...

I'm so sorry, TherapyDoc. It's a dreadful thing to go through.

belovedparrot said...

I'm so sorry, TherapyDoc. It's a dreadful thing to go through.

Mark said...

Sorry for your loss, your Father will be missed and at the same time he will always be present for he had such an impact on you and the world. Thanks for sharing your loving tribute to your Father. You are so very blessed.

April_optimist said...

My deepest sympathy. He sounds like a wonderful guy.

Retriever said...

So sorry for your loss. Thank you for telling us about him and helping us get to know him some more. Hope you write more about his life, and all he means to you. It is a blessing for us. May God comfort and strengthen you as you mourn your father, and inspire you to live out your life a fitting memorial to him. Tho right now I imagine the tears either have or are about to pour out...A virtual hug to you, dear TD.

Tzipporah said...

Baruch Dayan Emet.

So sorry for your loss, TD. You are right that the world is not going to be the same. It's amazing how long that lasts, when it's a parent's death.

therapydoc said...

Thanks again, to everyone. I had a workshop planned and took off for it. Wouldn't you know, it's cold here.

Physical Fitness Guru said...

It's so sad living a life without a father. I can relate because I was also struggling five years ago when my dad died. However, I am so proud of you. You were able to manage on it. I am also happy for you. I hope to see more posts from. Just like me, I was able to move on and now I am a physical fitness guru. I was inspired to be choose it as a profession since my dad dies for a heart attack. I am now teaching people on how to have a healthy living with right programs. Learn more about weight loss menus. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry for your loss. My thoughts and prayers for you and your family.

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry for your loss. My thoughts and prayers for you and your family.

Emma said...

Condolences to you TD.
I'm sure your Dad was always proud of how you turned out, glad that he was a good influence on you.

Keep the stories coming! I wish Christianity had kept the formal practice of sitting shiva.

CZBZ said...

I have read your post several times...your tribute to your father has touched my heart.

Please accept my sincere condolences for your loss. It's sad to watch the "Old Guard" pass. Their wisdom will be sorely missed.


Hugs,
CZBZ

Anonymous said...

Please - understand that you are held in the loving arms of many people who return only the favors you have done them. Understand, that while he is "gone"... your father is still with you in subtler ways, now. Within, now.

One hopes that you'll take plenty of time for your self - to adjust to this new reality.

Thank you for all you've done & shared. Peace.

Jannie Funster said...

Hugs to you from a first time commenter, but admirer of your writing for a while.

Your father was a gift, as is your writing.

So sorry for your loss.

Christiaan & Kyra Pieterse said...

My father died in March 1983. I remember it as if it were yesterday.

My condolences on your loss.

Anonymous said...
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Adi said...

Shalom Doc,
So sorry to hear about your father. I'm going through a similar process with my own at the moment. It's not pretty, and it isn't fun, but it's humbling and maybe that's a good thing.
My father's also the Jewish (even Israeli) kind who never showed weakness. But then the cancer came and here we are. Glad I found your writing in this blog-world-thing.

Babs said...

What a beautiful post. I'm so sorry about your dad.

Wendy said...

Only real love waits while we journey through grief. In all the epics, in all the stories that have lasted through many lifetimes, it is always the same truth: love must wait for wounds to heal. It is this waiting that we must do for each other, not with a sense of mercy, or in judgment, but as if forgiveness were a ...rendezvous. How many are willing to wait for another in this way? Very few.


Here is hoping that there are plenty in your life waiting for you and yours healing your grief.
Wendy

Anonymous said...
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Rooster Shamblin said...

http://roostershamblin.wordpress.com/ would you please spend a few minutes reading my blog about all things chicken. I have been raising more than 50 breeds of chickens 40 years.

Anonymous said...
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The Rebbetzin's Husband said...

I'm very sorry to hear this news, doc. May your mother and your family know nichum, and may your father's descendants develop his warmth and his strength.

San Diego Therapist said...

You make some excellent points. An excellent article.

therapydoc said...

Thanks all of you on your condolences. I'm working on the thank you notes, forgive me if they're short. You'd think, me, full of words, could do better. If you don't have a blog or you didn't hear from me, know that I tried to reach you and somehow, the system just didn't work. May we all know happy occasions, therapydoc