Saturday, July 15, 2017

It wasn't supposed to happen like this

Before we moved into our new house, I briefly started some cutesy little post about the move, minus the details, and was super excited to finish it up. In the end, though, what happened was neither cutesy nor fun nor happy, so naturally that's not what I'm posting.

When I was in high school I had a dream that my dad was dead. Not that he'd died in my dream, but that he'd been dead for many years at that point and I was still sad, going over memories and wishing I could see him again. That morning, my dad actually came to make sure I was waking up for school (I was notoriously bad about that) and, as soon as I saw him, I burst into tears. This was, I know, a little unsettling for him. I was just so relieved to realize that he wasn't gone. I hugged him close and couldn't tell him why I'd cried that morning until years later. Thinking of it always brought back the feeling of grief I'd felt in my dream.

I would give quite a lot to be woken up like that again, and to know I have many more years with my dad.

Despite my dad's heart attack a little over three years ago, no one was worried about him. I mean, I knew that one of these days he'd have another heart attack and that that one, or maybe the next one, would manage to kill him. But that was supposed to be years in the future. As sad and horrible as it is to admit, we've all been so busy worrying about my mom's health and preparing for her (sooner rather than later) death that to say we were completely blindsided by my dad's sudden passing is quite an understatement.

To have it happen the day that we were supposed to move made it doubly hard. It was supposed to be a happy day. He was so excited for us! He was going to finally see our house that weekend, and he kept saying how proud of us he was. He knew how long and hard we've been working toward this goal, and our combined dedication and perseverance was a trait he was not shy about praising.

No one thought anything of it when he slept in. He was always a night owl, and usually slept in quite late on weekends. He'd also had what we thought was a cold the day before. The kiddo and I had been sick the week before and his symptoms seemed to match up so we weren't concerned. Only, that day he wasn't sleeping in. I'm not sure I'll ever forget my brother running downstairs yelling, "Call 911, Dad is cold!" I ran upstairs to see for myself while calling emergency services and could see immediately that there was no helping him.

Instead of using my vacation time to work on setting up our house I used it instead to plan my dad's funeral, to make arrangements for what to do with his body and to contact as many friends and family as I could think of. As if that wasn't enough, there's always my mother's care to think of and, as the mom of a very demanding toddler, I had to focus on my child as well. There were details that I was sorting through and problems I was taking care of all day long. I couldn't grieve, I didn't have time for that. There were others who needed me more than I needed time to myself.

The worst moment of it all was walking into the funeral. I don't know about you, but whenever I'd thought about my parents one day, hopefully far in the future, dying, I had never thought about that detail. There would be a funeral, sure, but my mind glossed over it. However, when it hits you that you are really, truly saying goodbye to someone you love that much, it's overwhelming. I lost what composure I had immediately.

Which, really, is a good thing. If I could remain stoic through my dad's funeral then he wouldn't have meant all that much to me. But he did. He was a wonderful man and a great father and I'm so, so lucky that he was my dad.

I have some small comforts. He died very peacefully in his sleep, and from appearances he didn't even know what was happening. I also had pretty much the best last words to my dad: "Love you." Casually tossed over my shoulder as we left to go see friends for a barbecue, I didn't know that that would be the last thing I ever said to him. But if I had to choose, that's what I would say to him all over again.

We didn't get to spend a night in our own house for two weeks after the day of the move. Thanks to our amazing friends and HusbandX's hard work, most of it had gotten done that day anyway while I made calls and dealt with the details of death. Moving was, in the end, not a happy but a practical decision. After all, having our things cluttering up my parents' house could only make whatever else needed to be done even more difficult. And I cannot thank our friends enough for all that they did: taking the kiddo away so that she could have a somewhat normal day and we could focus on what needed to get done. Moving our things and even supplying us with toilet paper and some (nonperishable) groceries. Checking in to see in what ways they could help. My gratitude for being surrounded by such amazing people is beyond words.

I've gotten through the weeks somehow. This has been, without a doubt, the most difficult period of my life. There are so many things that I need to attend to, and all of them crucial, that I've been constantly overwhelmed. The hardest part has been dealing with the Munchkin's feelings on top of my own. She's having a hard time with this, but so am I. I just don't get the luxury of behaving like a three-year-old. So I've dealt with the move, I've dealt with living in two places, I've helped my mom as best I can, I've worked with my brothers on my dad's estate and everything that needs to be done after someone dies, I've gone back to work, and I've dealt with the needs and emotions of a demanding child all at the same time. And I've been harboring a secret.

You see, before we even closed on our house I took a pregnancy test. It was positive, the way I'd expected it to be. This was as planned as these things ever can be, considering what a crapshoot fertility can be. You start trying and basically cross your fingers, never knowing if it will take five weeks or five years. Well, we got lucky and ended up on the five weeks end of the spectrum. I found out I was pregnant, we closed on our house, and then my dad died all in the space of about three weeks. To say that it was difficult to handle all of that at once is to severely understate things.

I never got to tell my dad and that really, really sucks. At first I was having a hard time finding any happiness in this baby I wanted so much, because it instantly became just one more thing I have to deal with. Between all of my other responsibilities I didn't have time to think of myself, but I also didn't have the luxury not to think about myself either. So instead of being a joy this was just one more thing I have to take care of.

Luckily, the first trimester has been pretty easy on me. No nausea to speak of, only mild food aversions (except for that one week, when I didn't even want water because it was totally abhorrent), and exhaustion. But would I be this exhausted anyway? One of the aspects that's been the hardest is that I don't know what's caused by grief and what by raging pregnancy hormones. Do I suddenly want to cry because I'm still sad, or because my hormones are going wild again?

This all sounds really bleak. It's not the way I wanted or intended to tell the world about this, because a baby should be a happy thing. And it is really is. I've had two appointments now and I'm just starting to round out so it's a visual thing rather than a list of nasty symptoms. I've heard the heartbeat and that was indescribably beautiful. As my grief is becoming less acute (though not fading, never fading) and things are getting checked off the to-do list I am able to relax and be happy. I'm building another human being! That's pretty incredible when I stop to think about it.

I also have to take a moment to thank both my husband and my brothers. HusbandX, of course, knew shortly after I did. He was always there with gentle reminders that taking care of myself was okay too, to step in and handle things when I just couldn't. My brothers did the same. I feel rather bad for the way I blurted it out to them, in the midst of cleaning the bathroom together the day after my dad's death. I didn't really plan it but I realized that they needed to know. We were talking about things that we needed to do, particularly with regards to our mom, and they needed to know what I'm capable of and what I'm not. Since then they've also all been quietly checking in on me, taking care of me. They've entertained the Munchkin when I needed a nap, pre-checked meals with me to make sure it was something I could stomach. Not a day goes by when I don't realize just how lucky I am to have all of them.

Dealing with death and new life together has been confusing and added to my sense of overwhelm. My feelings about this baby are so tied up in my grief. I keep going back to the knowledge that I didn't get to tell my dad and that hurts more than anything else. Of all the people he loved in the world he loved us, his family, the most. It's something I've always known and I hope I can make my own children feel as cherished. My dad is the parent I most wanted to emulate, with his patience and generosity, and I'm not even nearly there yet. What will I do without his guidance?

The very act of telling people about this, seeing the genuine pleasure that others get from hearing our good news, has been making me happier. Fairly soon, I'll start to feel the baby move and it will seem more real to me.
My dad and my daughter, playing on the beach together.
And I will tell it all about the grandfather it will never get to meet. I am now the keeper of my dad's memory and I'll do my best to keep him present in our lives.

1 comment:

  1. Elizabeth, I am so sorry about your dad's passing. I too, lost my dad when Deirdre was just 2 and Kellen was an infant. As much as I miss him, I am most upset that my children never got to know him and have him touch their lives. Fortunately, I recognize part of him is in me and that I'm passing along traits of his such as a dry sense of humor, a penchant for trivia, and a pride in being Irish-American. Your little ones will also know their grandpa through you, and through their uncles. Congratulations on your new home and your new baby. Blessings to you and your family. --Colleen