The morning after my Dad died, he came to me in a dream.
In my dream, my Dad is sitting in a chair with a large Tefla bandage on the upper right side of his head. His blue eyes are clear and twinkling and he’s wearing a sort of self-satisfied, cat-that-ate-the-canary grin. Without any words, he communicates to me that he’s been fixed up good as new. The damage from his right-hemisphere stroke and the debilitations of dementia he experienced in the last year of his life (and even longer than that, to a milder degree) have been healed. I smile and say, “Well, look at you, Dad!” I give him a hug and a kiss and tell him I love him.
I am amazed at how differently this loss is affecting me compared to Cameron’s death nearly five years ago now. Cameron visited me in dreams, too. But at first, every time he visited my grief and anger were so powerful that I ended up pushing him away. I would awaken from those dreams full of pain and sadness. My dream of Dad left me filled only with peace. It puzzles me a bit how unemotional I have been about my Dad’s death. I’m trying not to beat myself up over it, but I have been giving it a lot of thought. People offer me condolences and I feel like there’s no consoling needed.
Recently, as I was perusing other blogs on the theme of grief, I came across this post called “Good Grief,” which contains some good, basic information about grieving. The post includes a list of things that can affect a person’s response to a loss. I can see how some of the ideas presented there have applied in my own experiences of grief.
Anticipatory grief, for example, happens when death is anticipated over a long period of time due to illness or other circumstances. The reaction to an expected death is very different than the reaction to a sudden, unexpected death. It doesn’t necessarily mean the grief is lessened, but the shock is lessened. There is a level of anticipation or expectation that we will outlive our parents, but we don’t expect to outlive our children. The difference in feeling about these two deaths is partly because of that, but it’s more than that, too. With my Dad, I think my grieving happened before he passed. I felt more sadness in watching his brilliant mind fade away than I did at the passing of his body, which, at the end, seemed only a shell of him anyway. I had some anticipatory grief with Cameron’s death, too. He’d been struggling with addiction for years and I kept waiting for something terrible to happen. Yet, I was not prepared for his unexpected death in the county jail. I thought that there, of all places, he’d be forcibly protected from his self-destructive addiction. When the detectives from the jail came to tell me he was dead, the shock was incredible. While there was anticipatory grief with both my Dad and my son, in the end I expected and even hoped for my Dad’s passing while I resisted the idea of Cameron’s death right up to the moment I learned of it.
Another thing that impacts the grief experience is the relationship you had with the person who died. I was certainly much closer to my son than I was to my Dad. Even though I had been a caretaker for my Dad for the last several years, it was more out of necessity than closeness. Prior to the decline of his and my Mom’s health, I really didn’t see my folks much. Even though I love my Dad, my life was very separate from his life. Cameron and I, on the other hand, were extremely entangled – probably unhealthily so. I believe it is called co-dependence. So his death left a gaping hole in my own sense of identity. There was also a lot of unresolved business with Cameron, where with my Dad I felt I had no loose ends, no grievances, nothing I felt guilty about. Cameron’s death left a lot of things unsaid and undone. Over time, since his death, we have had an opportunity to resolve all those issues and to heal our relationship so that now I can think of him with love and with peace in my heart. But in the beginning, there was only pain and guilt and anger. So I guess it’s easier to let go of my Dad because there’s no baggage there.
One more thing the post mentions is that what you’ve learned about loss in the past will inform any future experiences of grief. This certainly seems true in my case. Cameron’s death and all the amazing experiences that followed have completely transformed my understanding of and feelings about death. Where before I supposed (or at least hoped) that death was not a final ending, I now know it without any doubt at all. I have had too many amazing communications with Cameron since he passed to think of him as “dead.” His passing also taught me that the bond of love survives the apparent separation of death. It not only survives, but becomes stronger and healthier. My sense of death now is that it is a return to our true soul state, while our adventures here on Earth are temporary challenges—learning and growing experiences. Rather than grieving my Dad’s passing, I can celebrate his homecoming and know that our hearts remain connected.
Wishing you peace on the journey…
As always, I welcome your coments here or by email (Claire@DeepWaterLeafSociety.com)
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One thought on “The Changing Face of Grief”
I think it’s true that going through this once affects how you deal with it again. I can also attest to the unbelievable shock of an unexpected death; that, to me, has been one of the hardest parts of bereavement to reconcile. I’ve given up, beyond acknowledging the fact. I don’t think I’ll ever understand until I pass over myself.
I am glad you have peace in your father’s passing, and reason to know he is not gone, but on new adventures. As always, your unwavering knowledge of this strengthens my own that should be steadfast, but is still shaken by time and uncertainty.