My father recently passed away at the age of 90. He was a gentle soul and a gentleman, a talented baker of bread and cinnamon rolls, a model of bravery and tenacity, a lover of life, a listener of classical music, a voracious reader, a dedicated family patriarch, a lifelong student and a teacher. A husband, father and Papa to his wife, children and grandchildren. Ninety is an impressive age and he lived a full, interesting and happy life.
I still have something to “say” to my dad almost every day. It might be about a new recipe I made: he became quite a cook in his retirement and we enjoyed exchanging recipes. He was a purist kind of a cook, he would use only fresh garlic and always tried to use fresh herbs. He would go to multiple grocery stores to gather just the right ingredients. He would even grow his own herbs and dry them….now that is above and beyond! In that regard I do not take after him. When I make a big pot of soup, I still think about bringing some to him….he and I would share our soups with each other. It still occurs to me to ask him questions, he knew so much about so many things – politics, music, finances. Or I think to tell him about a concert or play we attended, or a book I read.
So I am on the up-and-down journey of the grieving process, and here are some of the things I have been learning along the way.
There is nothing like a good hug. Hugs bring a sense of safety and being cared for. I have received some extra good hugs in the past few months. Hugs cause the hormone oxytocin to be released, which is the cuddling hormone that gives one feelings of relaxation and trust. Offer a good, long, tight hug to someone that you care about. Don’t let go too quickly.
You don’t always know who is in your support system. When you experience a loss or illness, you find people reaching out and being there in ways that you might not have predicted. And maybe people who you would not have predicted. And perhaps, people who, in hindsight, you realize you might have done more for when they had a loss. This is a kind of “pay it forward” situation. Accept people’s gifts of food, words, calls, wisdom and expressions of caring, recognize the comfort these gifts bring, and be thankful. Maybe add it in to your thoughts of what you might do when someone else has a life event. Pay it forward to the next person. I have learned much from others on how to react and support in tough situations, and I am still learning.
There is no one way to grieve, nor any right way to grieve. It doesn’t last for a proscribed amount of time, like six months or a year. It’s a highly personal reaction and experience. Some people stay busy and distracted. Others get under the covers and hunker down. Some people do well in public, but come home and let it all out. Some cry at the drop of a hat, and others don’t cry much at all. Some people write about it, others talk about it. And many other reactions. It’s all OK and “normal.” The only thing to watch is how long someone takes themselves out of their regular activities. If your friend or family member is escaping for what you might consider to be “too long”, ask them about it without judgement, and ask if some grief counseling might be a thought, or how you can help.
Grief is not a linear process. It doesn’t necessarily start with great sadness and taper down to “back to normal” within a specific period of time. It likely goes up and down like a yo-yo, depending on the date, the day, the month, the weather, the holiday, the outfit you are wearing, the smell in the air. The memories come when they come. You could be outside on a beautiful day, not a care in the world, and the sound of the ice cream truck could trigger a memory, and then……you feel sad. Take a few deep breaths and be in the moment with the feeling and the memory. Lean into it and experience it. The memories are what sustain us and we are fortunate to have them, even if they might make us feel sad.
I have written about this before in my blog……often we ask others, “what can I do for you?” And they say “nothing, thanks”. That answer seems to be part of the strong, independent culture that we live in. I continue to learn that just doing something will be most appreciated. There is no one who won’t be grateful for a container of soup, a nice loaf of bread or some home baked cookies. I don’t think we need to worry about doing the “wrong” thing…..any gesture is the “right” thing. Chances are that if you do something that you would have liked yourself, it is entirely the right thing.
All of our experiences build on who we are as we go forward in life. The happy experiences and the sad ones. Not only do we learn that we can handle difficult life events, but we are stronger for it in the future, however long that takes. And we can use our insights to be there for others.
So, I am going to find my dad’s recipe for cinnamon rolls and take out my measuring cups and spoons. I am not a baker, but this seems like a family tradition that should be carried on. I will ask my daughter to help me, because she often baked with her Papa. My dad would appreciate the effort. I just wonder how many times I will have to bake them so they turn out like his.