Grief in all its miserable forms

When I make the trip home to Pennsylvania, I am inevitably drawn to my late father's closet. I stick my entire face into his clothes hanging there and breathe, hoping to catch a trace of him and to feel close. I run my fingers over his button down shirts - one crisp white with a pink check, a Hawaiian print that must have been purchased for a theme party - picturing him wearing each. I remember the many times he called me over to show two possible ensembles for the day's events so I could pick which I liked better.

Dad always let me know my opinion mattered to him--unless it was about what was on TV. If I didn't like what Dad was watching, I was welcome to go elsewhere, he said (and often).

As a long time reader of Joanna Goddard's blog, A Cup of Jo, I had heard the tragic story of her brother-in-law's diagnosis of lung cancer and subsequent death at just 37 years old. I had already planned to read Kalanithi's book before I read Lucy's essay in the New York Times.

But the essay, entitled My Marriage Didn’t End When I Became a Widow, was so moving and familiar that I had to share so that you might read When Breath Becomes Air too.

This excerpt in particular has stuck with me.

The transition from married to bereaved was disorienting. At first I could scarcely grasp what widowhood meant; I was too busy looking for ways to comfort Paul even after he died. When the funeral home asked me to bring a set of clothes for Paul to be buried in, I wore them first, thinking I will make these clothes warm and redolent of us. I put a pair of our daughter’s socks in his pants pocket. On the day of the burial, I stepped out from the procession and moved ahead of the pallbearers, compelled to lead his coffin down the hill. I can’t take your hand, but I will guide you; you will not go alone. For several months, I slept with my head on the pillow he had died on, left his medications in their drawer, wore his clothes to bed. Still today, months after his death, I go and sit at his grave, absent-mindedly stroking the grass as if it were his hair, talking to him using nicknames only he would understand.
— Lucy Kalanithi in the NY Times


I have talked about various elements of grieving in the six months since my Mom and I lost wonderful sweet Dad. For me, the days have become a little easier. I no longer cry daily, for example. But acknowledging that brings on a wave of a different, even deeper pain plus some guilt.

My life has irrevocably changed and even with all I have learned from this process, I have no idea what's next.

I also have no idea how to end this post.


When Breath Becomes Air
By Paul Kalanithi