When I was little, every once in awhile my dad would go on a business trip and while he was away, my mom & I would eat at Bridgeman’s. Bridgeman’s was my very favorite restaurant–the one on the east side of St. Paul. Bridgeman’s has been gone for years, replaced by a liquor store, but it will forever be “the old Bridgeman’s” to me. I always ordered a hamburger from the kids’ menu and it came with a kid-sized sundae….a teeny little sundae that barely counted as dessert, but since it was included with the meal I didn’t pass it up.
However, I preferred malts.
When dad traveled, Mom would let me get a malt, AND the free tiny little sundae. Thus the inside joke: Let’s go to Bridgeman’s for a malt and a sundae.
The past 3 weeks I’ve thought a lot about going to Bridgeman’s with Mom for a malt and a sundae. Maybe Mom let me have extra ice cream when dad traveled because ice cream is so comforting and when Dad was out of town, Mom & I both needed comforting. He was the calm presence during those early childhood years when my behavior was occasionally challenging, especially to Mom who preferred neatness and order but ended up with a messy kid who was sometimes sassy too. A sassy, messy kid. Dad knew the messy gene was passed down from him so he understood, although he didn’t tolerate my sassiness.
It still feels like Dad might just be out of town and will soon return home. Then things can go back to normal. In my head I know this isn’t true, but it still feels like it might be true, and that my discomfort could possibly be eased with a malt and a sundae.
As grieving starts, it feels like our brains try to feed us pieces of information, and we try to absorb it. We know he’s gone, but we can’t believe he’s gone. “I can’t believe he’s gone” is the theme in our household, and in my brain. I believe it because I was at the funeral. I helped make the funeral plans. I even got to write the obituary. Yet I still keep expecting him to come home from his trip. I think eventually my brain will catch up to reality. Maybe that is part 2 of grieving. I wonder how many parts there will be.
There are various expectations around grieving…the period of time it is acceptable to be sad…to miss work…to avoid responsibilities. All of that is dependent on who you lost. There are also rules like, “Don’t make any big decisions while you’re grieving.”
The first decision I considered was on the day Dad passed away and it was definitely big. I decided I would leave my job. My boss doesn’t read my blog so hopefully he won’t know about the plans I made, but I declared to my family on that day, February 18th, that this was my last tax season and I would be done working on April 17th. Mom mentioned, “You may be a little sensitive right now.” My daughter, who is often the mature and reasonable one, suggested I first take a shower and then wait a day before putting in my notice. As it turned out, the next day I actually wanted to go to work and found it therapeutic, giving some weight to the “no big decisions” rule. When I came home 5 days later with a new car, Daughter said, “No big decisions. I’m proud of you for not quitting your job.” I guess the car was a only a medium decision.
Is a tattoo a big decision?
I am only 80% sure I’m getting a hummingbird tattoo next month, but I have made some other big decisions.
For starters, I’m going to grieve on my own timeline. I’m going to be sad as long as I’m sad and I’m not going to try to talk myself out of sad feelings. The same goes for the rest of the people in our house. Everyone gets to have their sadness however long they want or need. Crying is 100% ok. Canceling plans is fine. Napping is good. Slower paces are expected.
While I am grateful my dad lived 74 years, a respectable period of time to exist on earth, and I’m especially grateful his suffering was limited to a few days, I’m still so sad. And while I can make a painfully long list of people who have far worse grief and loss than I may ever know in my lifetime, I’m still going to allow myself to grieve fully…without guilt. I’ve already learned that gratitude and grief are not mutually exclusive – such good news. Gratitude is one of my lifelines, and I don’t want grief to push it aside. I can live both.
So I’m going to try to take care of myself…and my family. I might not follow all the rules. Sometimes I’m going to skip church and take an extra day off work. And other times I will sign up to serve. I will go to movies with friends, and hopefully find a way to laugh at least every day. I’ll walk the dog…go on date night…go on a trip. Sometime I will even go to the gym.
And sometimes I will eat a malt and a sundae.
Miss you Dad…