Grief is not a mathematical equation summed up in weeks, months, or years. It is not a neat and tidy compartment of tears and tissues, nor is it a photo album on the shelf; we do not flip through memories until we reach the end of the book then put the sadness away as if nostalgia has taken grief’s place.
Grief is messy. No. Grief is clumsy. It comes at you in fits and starts and knocks you over and trips you up and laughs at your attempts to right yourself and just keep walking.
It can go away but it can come back again making you wonder if you were ever not sad, or if your happiness is simply a ruse. But wait, you say, why are you here when I am good and strong and smiling and true, and the sun is shining, or at least it promises to.
And grief will reply, because this is my job, to remind you that the sun is always accompanied by a shadow, now watch your step; I do believe you’re about to miss one and tumble down the stairs.
And this is where I reside each year, from September to December. Here, in the changing of the seasons and here in the weeks that are smothered between the anniversary of the death of my father and the anniversary of the birth of my daughter.
It’s confusing when your father dies and you are 32 weeks pregnant.
Even though his illness wove its way through almost the exact timeline of my pregnancy, getting bigger, getting stronger as we both neared the end, only I came away with something to hold, my body emptied, his simply gone.
And even five years later I recall those weeks in between with such clarity, the sadness never quite giving way to the anticipation of meeting my second daughter; my happiness over her impending arrival never quite being fully dampened by my grief.
Five years ago we were at a family Thanksgiving celebration at exactly the halfway point between those two events, and the conversation turned to a loss that a cousin had just suffered. A cat had died. A cat. She had been given pamphlets on the bereavement of cat owners and advice on how to get through it. There was much shoulder patting and earnest nodding. I rubbed my huge belly and I hated humans that day. I didn’t blame the dead cat.
I look at my daughter now and try to find a sign of my father. A sign that he has somehow given his spirit to my blonde, clever, funny little girl and I can’t find it anywhere. That he would love her I don’t doubt for a second; that he would find her as fascinating as I do, I don’t doubt for a second. But I don’t see him in her, anywhere.
It would be so much easier if somehow my father had reincarnated a worthy and recognizable part of himself into my lovely daughter; it would be so poetic and comforting to be able to say, you are the spitting image of my father, or you have my father’s hands/eyes/sense of humour. Comforting to me, that is.
But I can’t say that. Because that’s not how these things always turn out. Dead loved ones, no matter how close you were or how much you miss them, don’t always resurrect their spirit into those that come next, and grief doesn’t always peter out and move on.
These are confusing, in-between days and I will get through them just fine, like I did five years ago. But I will hold the bannister as I make my way down the stairs and watch my step as I walk into the crisp sunny day. Because these things have a way of tripping you up.