Bereavement Leave

Thursday, November 12, 2009


I know it's been too long since I last checked in.  I'm sorry for that.  A lot of life has been lived since September, a lot experienced and a lot observed.  It's almost too much for one report, but I'll try.

October has come and gone.  I had all these grand ideas of what to write in this report; the season of change, the crossing over from life to death, from summer to autumn, all so symbolic.  There are so many perspectives to take on these concepts, the possibilities seemed endless.  But Fate laughed and decided it would be best for me to live these as reality rather than give me the peace and quiet to sit and ponder them as concepts this year.

The first big change came when I found out that I'd have to postpone the move I'd been planning for the end of the month.  This was due to unforeseen complications with the renovation of a bathroom.  An old lead pipe (something my father and uncle are convinced doesn't exist inside the borders of our great nation) was nicked in the process of tearing out the sub floor.  This accident lead to the discovery that said ancient pipe had been slowly eroding away and was now near the end of its considerably long life.  All of the plumbing underneath the bathroom would have to be completely replaced.  Tack on an additional $1000 to the overall cost of this project, and I say thankya.  (And, yes, for those of you that recognize that little turn of phrase, I am still neck-deep in The Dark Tower series, ¾ of the way through Wolves of the Calla, if ya' kennit.)

Now, what was slated to be a Halloween move has turned into a post-Thanksgiving move, and we reserve the right to push that deadline to Yuletide.  Originally, I had hoped to be most of the way settled in by the time the big holidays hit, but Fate laughs, and there you are.  Silly humans and their "plans".

Okay, so I'm not moving as soon as I wanted.  That's all right, I can ride this wave.  I'm sure it's for the best, in the grand scheme of things (of which, I admit, I see so very little).

Then, a few weeks ago, I had the whisper of a feeling that I really should go visit my grandfather.  He'd been in a nursing home for the past year because he lost the use of his legs and grandma isn't strong enough to turn him or help him if he falls out of bed and no one's around.  I mentioned my feeling aloud to my beloved as we drove along toward someplace insignificant.  To this my beloved replied that, of course, if I felt that way, I should certainly pay grandpa a visit.

As the story goes (as it always seems to go), I did not go visit him.  I was too busy and too tired and it never seemed the right time.  Then, two week ago, I found out from my father that grandpa had been admitted to the hospital with pneumonia.  But, he was on the upswing.  Grandpa had pulled out of the worst of it and they were talking about letting him go back to the home in a day or two.  Good.  There's still time, though that feeling of being almost to the end, that feeling of inevitability, never left me.  I simply covered it up with this band aid of good news from my Da'.

Four days ago (this would be five days after I received the prior news) my cell phone rang while I was at work.  It was from a number I didn't recognize, but I answered it because my son was always calling me from his friends' cell phones – I haven't gotten him his own yet.  It wasn't my son.  It was my father.  I had forgotten he'd got a new cell number that I hadn't programmed into my phone yet.  And, again, as the story always seems to go, as soon as I heard his voice, I knew.  Time had run out.  I had ignored my intuition just long enough to render its message useless, and now I would never see my grandfather again. 

Since then, life has been like wandering through patchy fog.  There are bouts of emotion when the fog clears and everything is vivid and too real.  Those are the hard moments.  And then there's another patch of fog where you find yourself standing there, stalk-still, staring the countertop, the desk, the wall, only, until you came to, you weren't really seeing the object you were staring at.  You were just… staring, lost in complicated thoughts or no thoughts at all, feeling directionless.  It's like shock, but I don't know if that's what it is.  Can shock come and go like that?  I don't know.

My job gave me bereavement leave.  I took it – all two days of it.  I wanted to use the time to be there to help my family.  I thought maybe I could help with the arrangements or calling people or some other important task.  But my grandparents had already planned for this and my own parents had been taking care of them for so long, they already had a strategy.  All the arrangements were made.  The calls were done.  There wasn't much left to do. 

That's when I realized what a strange time it is, to be in your thirties.  My own parents are in their 50s and are still working too much and raising horses and taking care of their elders.  From that perspective, I'm still on the young end of the spectrum.  But from here, I have this feeling of responsibility, like I should be taking care of things, I should shoulder some of the weight when big stuff like this happens.  And then I find I'm not quite needed in that capacity yet. 

At first, this realization bothered me.  I felt useless and lost.  I kept these feelings to myself, however, and ported my energy into making breakfast muffins and date bars for the out-of-towners that would be populating my parents' home over the next several days.  The muffins and bars were whole grain things, a bit heavier than their white flour counterparts, and I wasn't sure anyone would like them.  But I had intended them to be real sustenance in the guise of comfort food and possibly an easy grab-n-go breakfast for the morning of the funeral.  It was the best I could come up with, given the circumstances, as I sat in the aftermath of my realization of how little was left to be done, staring at my kitchen counter through my current patch of fog, thinking, "What do people do for funerals?  … food.  They bring food."
I met with family members I hadn't seen in years and reacquainted myself with cousins I barely knew, since we had all grown up in different states.  I watched my father and his brothers and my grandmother grieve, and I did some grieving myself.  I had never seen my father sob before.  It broke whatever steel my brother and I thought we had.  And through it all, my perspective changed, as new wisdom will do to us now and then, and I found myself feeling grateful that there had been nothing more for me to do than to bake some well-intended muffins and talk and share with family.  It is not yet my time to take care of my family at large.  I'm still one of "the kids" and I my responsibility is to my own household.  My parents are still young and still strong and still taking care of business.  I am grateful for this, and I am also so proud of them, for the strength they've shown over these past several years as they took up the torch to care of their own parents when their parents needed them most.  It is through this example of honor and love that I and the rest of my generation learn to stand and be strong for the long haul.  Because of them, we will be able to take our turn when the time comes, and do the honorable thing – to be there for them and show them all the love and respect that they have earned.

So, again, I apologize for my recent bout of silence, but as you can see, the season of change wasn’t about to let me off the hook this year.  Of course, I’m still in the middle of it, but I’m hoping the worst of it has passed… for now.  But, if not, I’m sure there will be a reason.  Someone I once knew used to ask at times like this, “Well, did you learn anything, Dorothy?” (presumably referring to the Dorothy that found herself in Oz).  Yes.  I’ve learned to appreciate now.  The present is such a fleeting thing.