“Love you more.”
“Love you most.”
“You’re the best.”
“No, you’re the best.”
That’s how my dad and I would hang up the phone whenever he called. It was basically the word equivalent of that game where kids stack their hands on baseball bats to see who can get to the top first. We would pile our words high just to prove our love.
And he always won. He always had the last word.
But I think today I would like to have the last word. Or maybe not the last word but at least some words I guess.
I’m tired because I have nothing left to give. Nothing left to give to this page, to my friends, to my grief. There’s nothing like grieving to make you feel like a failure. There’s no way to win at grief and it will come for you when you least expect it. I don’t know how to do it well and I’m a perfectionist. But how does one grieve? It looks so different. It has made me feel inadequate and guilty for far too long. I’ve felt guilty for feeling sad on a Tuesday. I’ve felt ashamed of my tears at weddings. And I’ve been incredibly embarrassed by my inability to move on at times.
But I don’t have to be sad today, not if I don’t feel it.
I’m so incredibly drained, so wiped out, that I might not even be sad today. I might not cry. Or I might burst into tears at any given moment. That’s what’s so funny about grief; it is as layered and complex as we are. It’s not a game to be won. It simply becomes a part of us. Whatever we’re grieving, whatever we’ve lost, we miss it like a phantom limb. It aches and it burns at times. We try to reach out and grab the things that used to be there. They’re missing. It’s a vacant space on us and inside of us. And for a while the pain is unbearable. We’re not sure we’ll ever learn to walk again. Much less laugh or find the happiness that so quickly eludes us in the midst of our darkness, in the midst of our missing.
I’m not the 20-year-old girl in the hospital anymore and to force myself to be her today would be an injustice to the person I’ve become.
She was scared and alone. She was absolutely terrified and traumatized. But just because today is December 23rd doesn’t mean I have to sit in the silence and the darkness of my grief. It doesn’t mean I can’t go to work or laugh or smile. It doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the warm weather or look towards Christmas with all the hopeful expectation that Advent brings.
I’m learning to live with my phantom limb. I’m learning to walk again.
And I don’t have to feel anything other than what I’m actually feeling. I don’t have to be guilty for growing and moving forward. I don’t have to be ashamed of my happiness or progress because I’ve worked so damn hard to get here. I’ve fought tooth and nail for my becoming. The Lord is doing a good work in me. I can feel it deep in my bones. I can feel it burning in my chest sometimes. I can feel us wrestling and me getting stronger. I am learning to walk again.
That’s probably the hardest part. I wish that you, dad, could see my becoming. I wish you could know me now because I think you would really like me. Or at least I hope you would. But I want you to know that I’m not living to make you proud. I tried that for so long and I couldn’t keep living for the approval of a dead man. The burden of it all was far too much to bear.
So I’m learning to become myself and in the process I’m finding bits and pieces of you.
I want you to know I miss every part of you. I miss the way we hung up the phone and I miss the way we laughed. I miss how we were always on the same team. I miss how you were too loud and too embarrassing. What I would give to have you embarrass me again.
But I also want you to know that I do not miss the 20-year-old girl in the hospital room. This year I’m refusing to be her. And I think the saddest, most wretched part of all of it is when I refuse to be her I feel like I’m moving on. When I act like who I really am and I leave her behind, where she should be, I feel like I’m leaving you behind too. Which is awful. It feels so tragic.
Today is hard. I’m tired of my guilt and my grief. But the greatest gift I can give myself today and this Christmas season is the gift of being myself. You can come with me in my becoming, but I cannot go back. I cannot be my old self. There is a way to dive into my grief without digressing. There’s a way to be sad without being stagnant.
People were designed to heal, to grow, to change. Healthy people move forward. It doesn’t mean moving on, it just means growing up. It means that my grief is a part of me, my dad is a part of me, but they’re not all of me anymore.
I used to be afraid to be sad because I was afraid it would never end. I was afraid the darkness would consume me. I was afraid I would spiral down and never make it out alive. But I know differently now. I know I can be sad and it is okay. Or I can not be sad. I just get to be me.
But did you know the darkest day of the year has already passed us? Literally. It was December 21st. Not December 23rd. Every day from now on will just keep getting longer and brighter.
That’s how I feel. I feel like every day of me gets a little longer, a little brighter. Just because I feel sad doesn’t mean I am sad. Just because the darkness is a part of me doesn’t mean it consumes me. Just because I feel guilty or ashamed or bad doesn’t mean I am those things. And to be quite honest my sadness ushers in grace and a community of people to help me heal my wounds. It ushers in Christ.
Dad, I'm not moving on from you. I'm moving on from who I was when you were gone. I would like for you to come with me though. I love who you were and I'm learning to love myself and all those broken pieces.