Dealing with a hole in fabric of life
July 09, 2008
Editor's note: The following guest column was written by Jim Bloch, customer relations coordinator for Thumb Alliance P.I.H.P., which manages the public mental health and Medicaid substance abuse services for Lapeer, Sanilac and St. Clair County Community Mental Health.
My dad slipped into the molecular brightness on May 6 after five months of fighting a cascade of antibiotic-resistant infections following heart surgery before Christmas. He died on his mom's birthday. He was joined by his Maine Coon cat Misty, who died an hour later in Grand Bend, Ontario, where she was staying at the kitty-city run by my sister Barb.
My mom Doreen died two years ago on my birthday. Since her death, noth-ing really had changed at the old homestead in Pleasant Ridge. The place was a little messier. But the knickknacks sat on the same spots on the mantle and circular coffee table painted with astrological symbols. My dad's chair, the dining room table, the toaster—everything remained in its spot. My mom's address book—her flowing script detailing the changing whereabouts of her family and friends—still sat by the telephone as if waiting for an update.
Their deaths have left huge holes in our lives. My sister and I spent Dad's birthday—June 22, the day he would have been 82—sorting through his clothes for the Salvation Army. He never got a chance to wear three pairs of pants and a sweatshirt. They still had the manufacturers' tags on them. We began to dismantle the world they had made together. I took the three-foot tall bronze sculpture of a Viking, which connected my dad to his Danish heritage. I took the bronze discus-thrower. I took a honey dispenser in the form of a bee. I took a creamer shaped like Santa's face. You remove his sugar-filled cap—the red worn away in spots—to pour the cream. I took a chef's knife, an omelet pan, a recliner.
I felt like my sister and I were scrambling the universe.
I felt like I was stealing. What if they missed these things? What if they needed them?
My dad lived an outsized life. He was in the Army-Air Force during the occupation of Japan after the bombs. He was an engineer, a welder, a business owner, pilot, scuba diver, motorcyclist, hunter, boater, traveler, son, father, husband. At 6'5", he was an outsized man. He was bigger than life.
How can you throw away a man's wallet after all that?
While we sorted through drawers and boxes, we found both of my grandfathers' wallets—totally intact. My dad's dad died 30 years ago, my mom's 40 years ago.
Won't the invincible always need a billfold?
I keep feeling as though my dad is out for a drive and he'll be back for his wallet. At worst, he's gone missing. I keep thinking he'll turn up and wonder why we're picking apart his home and giving away his clothes.
This feeling was especially strong when I headed up to his cabin on Beaver Island in mid-June. His jackets drooped from the hooks he made by hand. His compound bow rested in the rack on the pine wall, his moccasins in the mud room, his favorite bourbon in the cupboard, his bone-handled hunting knife in the drawer. He designed the cabin, its tables, its chairs. He built himself into it. He would suddenly walk through the sliding glass doors onto the deck with Green's Bay rippling westward toward High Island and glittering with setting sunlight, I just knew it, a big Manhattan in his hand as three swans took turns dipping their periscopic necks underwater, their butts like feathered buoys bobbing above them. He would stretch out on the beach chair, his skin golden in the late light, saying what he always said when everything made perfect sense: "Whoever doesn't like this is a son-of-a-b#*!$."
Bereavement literally means being left desolate by death. The weirdness of death rests in the fact that there is nothing more uni-versal and nothing more individual than dying. Grief and mourning puddle and pool and overflow the banks of self-restraint in the wake of it—and that's as it should be. You can expect a barrage of sometimes contradictory emotions and reactions—disbelief, denial, shock, confusion, guilt, humiliation, anger, sadness, strange dreams, despair—to well up in no particular order. These are healthy feelings and responses. Remember, it's important to mourn—the process you go through to come to grips with your loss —and to grieve—how you express your loss by crying, talking, sharing, adjusting.
Express your pain. Talk about it with family members, friends, a therapist or a support group. Say it. The therapeutic impact of talk- ing about a problem is the foundation of all counseling.
Your period of grief and mourning may last weeks or months. Cling to it responsibly. Ride it out. Get with it.
Don't evade and avoid your grief. Don't drink around it or drug through it. If you don't grapple with your loss in a healthy fashion, you can expect unhealthy consequences to blister your life— illness, nightmares, stomach problems, panic attacks, depression.
Death always leaves a hole in the fabric of life. How you deal with it will spell the difference between a black hole—one that sucks all nearby life into, extinguishing it—and a white hole, such as that left in the surface of the bay by the swan as it forages beneath the surface for sustenance.