The Visit

I’m heading to Florida again, to the sun, the surf; to time splashing with my babies and holding hands with my husband. To my dad.

Last year, when I was visiting my dad for the first time since he left us, I was anxious. I was bitchy, I was on edge, and I nearly ruined our vacation, sick with the anticipation of visiting the place where my dad lay in the ground.

I think this time is different. I am still anxious, I have been bitchy, I am on edge and I am nearly sick with the anticipation of visiting the place where my dad lays in the ground. I’m just going to try really hard not to ruin our vacation with my grief this time.

Grief is a funny thing. My grief is a funny thing. I often think that it lives really low, way down in my belly, suppressed by the thought of travelling all that way to my heart, through all those acids and organs, and so it sits, heavy but dormant. Until.

Until conversation turns to the subject of him and I realize that we are speaking in the past tense. Until Bruce Springsteen comes on the radio, or I have a question that sends me instinctually to the phone, to dial his number for the elusive answer.

Until we plan to return to Florida and I have to visit him at Florida National Cemetery instead of in his living room.

Last year I introduced him to the granddaughter he left mere weeks too soon to meet. This year, I probably won’t bring her. An hour’s drive to a cemetery with prickly grass and not enough shade with a child who will understand that I am sad but not understand why, makes going to the cemetery even less appealing. But should I bring Bee? My lovely, sweet, inquisitive 4 ½ year old who knows that Big Guy is not around anymore, but has no idea of mortality, of the hard reality of death – of anything beyond, Big Guy died and Mummy is sad?

The other day, she asked me where heaven was. I took a deep breath and said, well, if you believe in heaven, then it’s in the sky. Oh, Bee replied, ok. Then she added, what is heaven? Another deep breath. Well, I said, if you believe in heaven, then you believe that it is the place you go after you die. Oh, she said again, ok.

I don’t’ really believe in heaven, or hell, or any utopian or fiery place that the spirit goes when you die. At least, I don’t think I do. I don’t know. What I do know is that I don’t’ want to have to explain to my lovely, sweet, inquisitive 4 ½ year old that we are standing on top of the place where my father’s bones are buried. That the stone with his name on it is marking the place where my father’s bones are buried. That we put rocks on the stone to signify that we were here, that he is missed, that he is loved. I don’t lie to my kids, but I’m not quite ready to tell them the truth.

So I’ll make the drive to Florida National Cemetery with Chris next to me and nobody in the backseat, distracting ourselves from the thought of our destination with jokes and music and wistful comments about how nice it is to be able to have an uninterrupted conversation, thanks to the empty backseat.

But I’ll feel it rising. That ball of grief that usually sits heavy but docile in my belly. I’ll feel my stomach churn as it snakes its way up; I’ll feel my breath get shallower as it pushes against my expanding lungs until finally my heart starts beating double-time, conceding space to this thing that callously left the spot it had burned in my body to thrust itself onto my consciousness, into my blood, into my throat.

I will sit and weep as I look at the words on the headstone. I will miss him and curse him and think that I am ready for this pain, but I won’t be. And eventually, my grief and my husband and I will have to leave; to get back to my children and our vacation and our life. And I will leave my dad, under the ground made heavier by the weight of the rocks I have placed on his grave marker and the weight of my tears seeping into the soil, and I will leave him to the earth; to the trees, whose dappled shade dances at the foot of his grave.



  1. Well, I'm speechless but I want you to know I'm thinking about you.

  2. What a beautiful and real post. thanks for writing about this.

  3. Thank you for sharing this. I have a very sick mom and although there are times when the grief for not having her "mentally" here almost overcomes me, I know that physcially she is still on this earth and that makes it seem a little bit easier to handle.
    I hope you are able to enjoy your vacation and are able to let some of the grief go while you kneel by your dad's grave.

  4. beautiful post. my dad passed away 8 yrs yesterday. it doesn't seem to get easier. just farther away.

  5. What a heartbreakingly beautiful post. I'm so sorry that you lost him.

  6. I wish it were otherwise K, but am glad you can visit again.

  7. I'll keep you in my thoughts.

    And sometimes, telling kids the truth is hard and maybe not all that helpful. It's OK to hold off if you need to, I think.

  8. this post made me grab my two year old as he ran by and scoop my little chubby bunny 10 month old and hug them to bits, even though it has been one of those mornings, (poop on the floor again). thanks for that.

  9. I have no words. I understand your grief all-too-well these days.

    Sending thoughts of strength.

  10. Lovely post. Your father was a lucky man to have such a wonderful daughter. And your two daughters are v. v. lucky to have such a thoughtful and caring mom.

  11. there is something so raw, so painful about not having a daddy anymore. it has been almost 15 years since my father died, and while the grief is more muted i still miss him.

    but, be assured, that one day it will be a little easier.


  12. New follower here! I lost my father as well and it's the hardest thing to go through lift with my kids who never got the chance to meet him. Visiting his gravesite is so difficult. But we try to do happy things there with my kids. Like we bring birthday candles on his birthday and sing to him and we try to make it happy. I'm tearing up just thinking about it though. *hugs to you*

  13. Powerful post. I lost my mother when I was just 4. It was the single most defining moment of my life and has affected me in ways I'm still discovering. The point is, I never visit her grave and it's only 45 minutes from home. Why? It causes to much grief, grief that I have trouble resetting when I leave. I also believe it's just a place and not where she is at all. I have my own thoughts and memories that I cherish (few that they are). This isn't to say that you should do the same, but to let you know that you are not alone in such a hard journey. I choose not to take my children there. They will be much older before I even explain who this woman was to them. They're young, it's our job to protect their innoncence.

    Thinking of you on your journey, knowing how hard it is and sending comfort however you need it.

  14. Beautiful post, Karen. As a yoga lover, I can really appreciate what you say about grief -- the physicality of it. It's what I work on when I'm anxious: where is the anxiety in my body; and then I watch it move and shift, through the organs, down to the little toe or finger, and it's gone.

    I wish you the best in Florida. I'll think of you.... xoxo

  15. Auntie JennoFebruary 24, 2010

    For some reason Sis, when I read this I didn't cry. Maybe because I'm still giddy from just getting home from our vacation to the Olympics. Then I realized that this past week at the Olympics I talked about Dad every day, your post was almost surprising, because even though our father is dead, he's still so alive to me, just in a different way.I miss him so much. Especialy when the U.S. beat Canada in hockey!

  16. I don't really believe in heaven either, and I'm already wondering how I will explain the concept of death to my wee ones.

    I wish you peace on your trip... I think of my dad when I go to the seaside, as we scattered his ashes over the waters...

  17. god. i'm so sorry. i'm so sorry he didn't get to meet her. and how much you must miss him.

    but what a story you've told in the telling us of your loss. that final paragraph is gilded.

  18. oh, k.
    I hope the trip was good, was healing, felt like something that you needed/wanted to do got done right.
    And this, this was lovely.


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