More than six hours had passed before I realized that I had not changed my son’s diaper. I tenderly applied Boudreax’s Butt Paste and my little guy jumped, he was soaked, beet red and his young skin chaffed and broken raw in places. I felt horrible. I am a good mother and I like being a mom, but that day I neglected to take care of my less than a year old son.
Children need their parents and depend on them, if nothing more than to be there. Ten days after Christmas, I wasn’t there for him and couldn’t be depended on for even his basic care. I can never forget that day or the care I didn’t or couldn’t give because that was the day of my father’s memorial and burial service.
I had experienced the death of my grandparents and other relatives within my circle but none of those situations could stand as solid, or even shaky foundation at best, to prepare me for my father’s death and the grief that was to come. One thing I still don’t understand, although I’ve accepted the situation of its origin, is death. More so, grief — living with, moving past and beyond it. Grieving for my father does not consume me, or my life. However, most would probably agree, the death of a close loved one leaves a big fat gaping crater in your heart and soul. At some point the hole is sealed over, you go on with life but the hole is still there. An unfillable sinkhole.
Since early childhood I’ve always had very vivid dreams, in some cases premonitions in the lives of others. The night before my father took a turn for the worse I dreamt of the inevitable, and as usual, the exactness of my forethoughts did not fail me. Weeks later, my father died on Christmas Eve, just like in the dream. Children need their parents and depend on them, if nothing more than to be there.
My guy, now a thriving big brother will sometimes ask about my father. Last night he wanted to know if I missed my daddy, his sister wanted to know where he was and could she see him. A child should never have to see their mother cry, I sobbed. My daughter hugged my neck and said, “It’s okay,” and got a tissue to wipe my stream of tears. Parents sometimes need their children and depend on them, to be there, if nothing more.
Through daily struggles, I came understand that it is indeed the process with no place or exact timeline as to when things will settle in your head and heart. If the grief doesn’t eat you alive, in time it will. For me it was approximately four years, which seemed like a lifetime but I now know is very typical. Looking back I realize how deeply rooted in pain I sat. My tall, dark and handsome daddy was dead and so was I, as I kept breathing. I continued my normal routine, had another baby, but was so very, very sad. I missed my daddy so much, so very much, I still do. During my process of grieving, I told myself that he was off on one of his fishing trips or visiting his friend in Mexico. I went through all of the stages of grief and even counseling, but I was stuck in a very sad place and time. I even found myself pretending that we had one of our misunderstandings and were in the middle of who’s going to call first, a cat and mouse game that I usually lost. This time there were no players or winners.
During the darkest days (and months) after his death I went through what most would consider normal grieving. I thought I was okay, I didn’t know that I wasn’t. No one really explained to me that grieving is a process. We all know that death is a part of life, just move on, he died, you didn’t, live your life. People die, you cry and life somehow goes on, isn’t that the process? At the time, I didn’t have any friends whose parents had passed away, so they couldn’t relate. I honestly don’t think that anyone knows the pain endured during my grief. I’m not saying my grief supersedes anyone else who has lost a beloved one, I only know my pain and the process I went through to understand, accept and deal with my grief. I only know that I didn’t feel as though I had the liberty to hurt. As each day passed I began to whither away, just as my father’s body had failed him during his sickness, the spirit of my body begin to fail me. I existed in a living death, all I could do is what I couldn’t do, care for my son that day, I cared for him. Children need their parents and depend on them, if nothing more than to be there. Parents sometimes need their children and depend on them, to be there, if nothing more.
My breakthrough came as I watched Maria Shriver during the 2009 Women’s Conference talk about her own broken heart after the death of her mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver. I felt she was my friend from afar, she understood. Shriver’s words were cloned expressions of my own broken heartfelt emotions revealed as she came to terms with losing her pioneer mother, her own anchor. She talked about being lost without her mother, because what she had always known was no more; children need their parents and depend on them, if nothing more than to be there. Her mother wasn’t, my father wasn’t. She’s a Kennedy, I’m a Johnson, grief knows no name, no class or color, hurt is identical.
Embraced in her sorrow, my lonely pain begin to feel normal, her lexis was a Presidential pardon to hurt, to cry, be mad, sad, dys- and non-functional — someone understood and I wasn’t so alone. Shriver expressed it best stating, her “mother’s death was unimaginable,” I was living those images and they hurt from a place so deep down inside of me that I didn’t know existed. Shriver’s words helped me break through the solid wall of “little pieces” and in becoming okay I realized that what I was experiencing was life. Death, even though it’s heart shattering, is a part of life.
As she talked of slowly putting her own pieces together, going through the motions of not living and not being okay from the disconnect that grief creates, Shriver’s powerful testimony helped me to move forward. Her mother’s words were delivered to her through a woman walking fully clothed on the beach of Hyannis Port — as her mother often did. The words delivered instructed her to “walk through the loss, walk through the grief, walk through your fear, walk into the water.” On the holiest day of honoring the Virgin Mary, August 15, one day after her mother’s funeral, Shriver walked fully clothed into the water, explaining that she “walked into her life.”
My grief is resolved and my life is moving forward. I was a very independent child, just as I am as an adult, but I knew I had my own security blanket, like Shriver had believed of her own mom. I knew that Joe Johnson, my Jo Jo, would always, always, always be there if I needed him. Like ten fingers and two thumbs, I knew if nothing else, he would be there. Then one day he wasn’t there. Even though my daddy’s gone and I still miss him, he lives within me.
The grief of my father’s death changed me, changed my life, but now I am okay; as I too have walked into the water.
— phenomenally yours, PJ
If you are experiencing grief or know someone who is on that “dark, rocky, lonely road,” as Maria Shriver describes it, I encourage you to listen to her candid speech on grief, here. It helped me, and I hope it just might help someone else. You can also find sources online, books or local religious and non-religious groups. Just remember there is light at the end of the tunnel. Just remember to walk into the water