Friday, June 17, 2011

Riding the Wave of Grief at Father's Day

     They say that grief comes at us in waves, usually when we least expect it.  I have found this to be true.  Earlier this year my uncle, dad's only brother, died.  I was not particularly close to this uncle. However, one day driving to work I was bowled over by one of those waves of grief.  It was as if another chapter in my dad's life had irrevocably closed.  The living members of his family of origin are now just my 101 year old grandmother and my aunt.
     I had the same experience a week ago.  I was attending our church's Annual Conference.  This is a gathering of over 1000 people from across our state to do the work of the church in a very specific place and time.  This year I was asked to have a leadership role in the Memorial Service. The service honors the memory of clergy and clergy spouses who have died in the past year.  We also honor the churches that have decided to close.  Sadly, this year six congregations made that difficult decision.  One of them  is Calvary United Methodist in Blairstown, Iowa.  My dad served that church when I was just a pre-school aged child.
     I do have quite a number of memories of that home and church.  I remember the big water tower that seemed like it was right behind our house and the siren that would blow to call the volunteer firemen to respond to an emergency.  I remember dropping my pretzel - a favorite teething toy - down the laundry chute that ran from the second floor to the basement of the house.  I remember the cowboy boots I was wearing the day I fell down the church steps -probably saving me from a badly twisted ankle or worse. I remember that Dad drove a school bus and sometimes I got to go to the Bus Barn with him -something that always made me feel special.    I remember that dad's office was in the house.  I remember a glow of blue light and the smell of ink on the days he would cut stencils and print the church bulletins.
     The parsonage and church in Blairstown are part of my life story.  They are also part of my dad's story and our family story.  I am very sad about the church closing, but I have had a hard time articulating why it affected me so much the day of the Memorial Service.  I felt weepy, tearful and a bit irritable most of the day.  I believe now I was swimming against a wave of grief.
      When I was little I adored my daddy, as most little girls do.  As sometimes happens, time  took a toll on our relationship which became strained in adulthood.  The unfinished business between us was not all resolved prior to his death. The closing of the church was, for me, like "another nail in his coffin"-a reminder that the past and it's cares irrevocably slip away.  A reminder that life is a series of "hello"s and "good-bye"s, and the "good-bye"s cause us to feel the pain of grief.
     As Father's Day approaches I will think of my dad with a mix of joy and tears.  I will honor my  husband for his special way of being "dad" and "papa" to our children and grandson.  I am also choosing to remember those who have been like fathers and brothers to me:  Dwight Vogel, "Cousin" Jim Grupp, Jim Russel., Jeff Dadisman, Orrin Plocher,  Richard Plocher and  Jon Starek.    These are the men in my life I honor for their enduring support, love and integrity. 
     If you feel a wave of grief coming at you this Father's Day, I encourage you to get out your surfboard and ride the wave wherever it takes you.   Feel your feelings.  Cry if you need to.  However, when the wave loses it's power and fades away, take some time to practice an attitude of gratitude.  Let those special guys still in your life know just how much they really mean to you. 

Blessings on the Journey,

The author with her children (background) and her grandson (foreground)