I was not prepared for the tsunami that hit me in my chest, when I walked down that sunny terminal toward gate number 44 at the San Diego Airport last Sunday.
I had spent three days in the city, networking with bloggers and hanging at the beach with my brother and his wife, who live there. I had had a great time, and I was happy to be going home! The smile I felt in my heart when they dropped me off at the United check-in held no warning of the wave that would hit me, when I walked through the sliding glass doors of that familiar airport.
The wave was grief and it was strong. So strong that it knocked me off of my big girl feet and landed me in a heap next to the sign that said “Denver: now boarding.”
There I was, laptop and trail mix in hand, ready to board my flight and all I could see was my father. All I could see was him standing in that same corridor, eight years ago.
Grief came and forced me to remember. Eyes gaunt and shot through with pain. Veins pierced through with blood transfusions. Body drooping and weak. Arms, hanging limp by his side.
We had tried to find food before he got on his plane, but our choices were very limited at that terminal, so I had run around several escalators and terminals in a frantic search to find something that his stomach could handle, before he boarded. Eventually I brought back some fries and a milkshake. It was the ONLY thing that didn’t make him nauseous, and I was happy to see him eat.
He made it through half of his fries and then handed the rest to me. I blinked back the tears as I hugged his frail body, and he told me that he loved me and thanked me for being there. He held onto me for what seemed like years, then finally turned to walk down the corridor.
I remembered how I had stood there and watched him until I couldn’t see him anymore. It was as though I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. He was my dad. My childhood hero! I remembered how he had turned around and smiled, one last smile, before he disappeared.
But how could I NOT remember?
It was the last time I saw my Father alive.
This time, I stood at gate no. 44 and remembered it all like it was yesterday. I remembered how I had thought life could not possibly go on, but then how it did and how things have changed, how I’ve had babies and how much he would have loved them.
And I grieved. Right there at the San Diego airport. I cried fresh and deep and hard and long for what I missed and for what I had lost.
Somewhere in the depths of my soul, it felt really good. It felt good to just be in the moment and let myself feel the wound, the gaping hole that my father had left. It felt good to not be afraid or ashamed of it in any way, and just let it come.
And doesn’t it come to all of us? Don’t we all feel the gaping? The wound that loss leaves?
I believe that grief comes to all of us in some form or another. A missed childhood. A failed marriage. A ship-wrecked relationship. A baby we never met. An opportunity that never came. A dream that never happened.
This world can be disappointing and we often find ourselves at the grave of what we’ve lost. Our health. Our hair. Our energy. Our independence. These are all things of value that can be so quickly snatched away and we ache and long to have them back.
But yet we are told to move on. The world pushes us onto the plane that’s waiting. So we push past our pain, scrambling to get to the next destination. But we haven’t grieved yet. We haven’t taken the time to remember. We haven’t honored that person, that piece of us, that place we lost.
We haven’t gone back and said thank you.
(Continued in my next post, “The gift of Grief.”)