In the kingdom of the heavens no suffering is unknown
Each tear that falls is holy, each breaking heart a throne
There is a song of beauty in every weeping eye
For there is One who knows me
His heart, it breaks with mine – Audrey Assad, Little Things With Great Love
My anxiety level is sky high today. I know it’s all over, but it is hard not to re-experience those feelings. It was, and still is in some ways, a trauma.
Exactly one year ago today we got “the news”. Well, on the cancer journey there are a few of “the news” conversations that can be had, but this one was the 2nd big one after the diagnosis news: the treatment is no longer working. The cancer has spread.
I was at school, around lunch time, when I got the phone call. I don’t think I fully understood what it meant at the time. I of course had to turn around and teach my kiddos like I hadn’t just received the worst news of my life. I deserve an Emmy.
That weekend I went home to be with my family, to comfort each other and to see my Dad every moment I could. Hospice was contacted and we met with Richard, an angel sent to gently walk us through. We were now actively walking toward the end. How many days were left? The doctor was very reluctant at giving any number, which I think was wise.
Our number ended up being 18. We had 18 days after Feb 16 to spend time with Dad. What a horrible and sad 18 days it was for us. I struggled with knowing how often to go home. Should I skip school and just be with him? How long would it be? I only had 7 days of PTO and I knew I’d be using them soon. What a ridiculous situation I was put in.
18 days I waited for “the call.” 18 anxiety and terror-filled days. 18 days we watched his body slowly shut down, his eyes sink further into his head, his stomach harden with cancer and his feet balloon so much it became painful to walk.
These next 18-ish days until March 6th are going to be horrible.
I woke up Thursday morning with a lump in my throat.
February is the month before March.
I was pummeled over by a swell of emotions and thoughts in the wee hours of the morning: “How is it already February? Do I know what this means?! Of course I know what this means! I’m not ready. Holy crap, how did we get here? How am I gonna do this?”
12 comes next. I am not ready for 12.
This is the number I’ve been trying to avoid despite its marching onward. (Pun intended) I currently do not feel like I can face this next month. Everyone else has had the privilege of forgetting or at least pushing it into the corner of their mind. Not me. I have been forced to stare it down daily.
The pain of grief is still very real and very strong. It exists differently though. I wish so badly to hear my Dad’s voice once more.
“Grace grows best in winter.” – S. Rutherford
(Did you catch the play on these last 2 post titles?!)
Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat. School will march right up until almost Christmas Eve which is both good and bad. It means I have not had a lot of time to face the music – Christmas is here and Dad is not.
If you know me or my family, you know that holidays are huge to us. Understatement of the year. We looooooove them. Christmas is the most epic of all. My parents worked hard to make Christmas such a wonderful, magical experience for us every single year. It was elaborate and so much fun. My Dad loved Christmas. He embodied Christmas to us. He is the strongest connection I have to the holiday itself (besides baby Jesus being born). In some ways, Dad is Christmas.
So how can we celebrate Christmas without him?
What will Christmas Eve morning be like without the Polar Express being blasted through the house?
What will it be like to sing our traditional “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” to just Mom to wake her up on Christmas morning?
What will it be like to open gifts without the excitement and joy of Dad’s face looking on?
What will it feel like to see no presents with the tag “From Dad?”
What will it feel like to hear David Seville’s Chipmunk’s without Dad singing along?
How will we sing Joy to the World at church when the world feels anything but joyous?
These are some of the things on which Christmas in the Macek household has been built. But now it has collapsed. It feels unbearable. Honestly, I think I’d be content to just skip it this year to avoid the pain. To not be forced into these moments that are unwanted and unsolicited.
I have no idea what this next week holds. I feel apprehensive, anxious, sad, jealous, and angry. Unfortunately grief requires one to go through -not over, under or around. Through.
So from somewhere I will, we will, summon the courage we need to make it through. Here goes …
I cannot remember the last Christmas we had where Dad was healthy. I have no memories of it. I am sure if I looked at pictures it might stir something up in my mind. My memory cannot access it and I feel incredibly sad about it.
All I can remember were the last 2 Christmases where Dad spent Christmas Eve/Day in the hospital. The first year (2015) it sucked big time as his health from the cancer hadn’t really taken a turn for the worse yet. We waited to have Christmas Day with Santa until he was home.
Last year (2016) it seemed par for the course sadly. We weren’t stopping for anything so we took Christmas morning to Dad. We packed up all of our presents and a tree and hosted it in his hospital room. He loved every minute of it. So did I.
I remember struggling during significant holidays with the BIG “what if” question – “What if this was Dad’s last (fill in the blank)?” I decided that I didn’t want to live my life that way, of exerting all this extra energy just in case. How could we know if it would or wouldn’t be? Hindsight is 20/20 and so now I wish I would have, or at least feel I should have enjoyed it a bit more. This is a product of being on the other side now, I understand.
And so, we’ve arrived to the “first” Christmas without Dad.
“But it was still not possible to think about her father without the danger of tears.” -A Wrinkle In Time
During one of my grief group sessions, the facilitator invited people to share about anything they wanted to say about their loved ones funeral. I loved being asked this questions directly. I had so much to say!
There were many things I could have said during that discussion but I focused on one. One of my favorite parts of my Dad’s funeral/viewing was the outfit he was laid out in at the funeral home. One that I am sure surprised many people!
Since Dad’s death was one we were facing head on, we were able to have a few discussions before he passed about his final wishes for his viewing and funeral. For as long as I remember Dad always wanted to be laid out naked saying, “God brought me into this world naked and that’s how I’m going out!” While it was a joke, I think he was kind of serious in that it did not matter to him since he came in this world with nothing and left with nothing. He said he would think on it and get back to us about it.
He never got back to us about it.
So on March 6th we sat in our dining room trying to decide what Dad would want to wear to his viewing. It was clear that he did not want a suit and tie. That did not reflect his personality at all. But what would?
Ah yes, something Christmas-y. And so we decided that he would be laid out in his Abominable Snowman pajamas – a bright blue tshirt with the abominable’s face and light blue fleece pajama pants. Perfect.
I imagine that many who came to pay their respects were surprised to see him in Christmas pajamas. Some of them probably not! For me though, there was no better way to remember him. He looked most himself and I loved this.
Here are the pants, last worn while Dad was still alive, on Christmas Day 2017.
Tonight I had a grief attack. Like a mascara-running-red-eye-producing-snot-pouring-hot-mess kind of attack.
And it all started because of this:
This was the last thing my father ever gave me. A Clark bar he bought at Ohio Valley General Hospital for my sister’s old lady choir friends. But I got one too.
I couldn’t bring myself to throw it away but what was the point of keeping it? I don’t even like them.
And so the attack came.
Mostly, I think, because I’m so keenly feeling the loss, his absence, the closer and closer we get to Christmas.
Looking back to Christmases past
And happy times gone by
Remembering your laughter
And as always, asking “why?”
For there are just so many things
That no one can explain
Why one of us is taken
While the rest of us remain
And why a special time like this
Should be a time to grieve
To wish you were still here
And wonder why you had to leave
Because you’re missed at Christmas
And on each and every day
For you were someone special
Who meant more than words can say.