Grieving Under an Invisibility Cloak.
I have been eyebrow-deep in grief for several months, though invisibly so. Most have no idea.
There has been no obituary, no arrangements, no gathering of family and friends to celebrate a life and support a family in mourning. Upon realizing that my grief is invisible, I was struck with the awareness that all grief is, to some extent, invisible.
Although he lives several miles away, and is walking and talking… I have had to acknowledge that my dad, as I knew him, is gone.
A year ago, my beloved dad was diagnosed with dementia. The mourning journey began. We looked at the road ahead with tears and fears. The specific dementia suspected moves alarmingly quickly.
Our new normal shifts far faster than I am able to navigate with any hope or semblance of doing so gracefully, so I don’t even try. Though in truth, I have redefined grace as having the courage to express one’s true self authentically, whether through tears or smiles or both. From this perspective, I am rocking grace.
I cannot, and will not, navigate this road with pretense that I am not mourning. Yet, the situation in many ways asks me to do so since my dad is physically with us.
A month ago, the stark truth hit me that we will never have another substantive conversation anchored in here-and-now reality. My brilliant father’s brain has changed so drastically that there is no longer any place for such topics to land.
Our visits require my entering into his world. Almost nothing in his verbal world is recognizable to me any longer. In the rare instances when speech is expressed in full sentences, sentences don’t connect.
I don’t think that I am recognizable to him in this world in which he lives, and I can’t reach. Sometimes, he seems to recognize me merely as a friendly, familiar face. I don’t think he knows that I am his daughter. I don’t know that he knows that he is a father, or grasps what that means.
There is a finality in this which ushered in a new wave of grieving. I am fatherless, while continuing to love this beautiful man who needs his daughter’s love now perhaps more than ever.
While honoring the deep sadness of having lost my father on the level of conscious awareness, life goes on with no outward marker of this tremendous loss.
While some know that my dad moved into a memory-care facility, most don’t know that he is in many ways already gone from my reach because I continue visiting him, communicating in whatever ways are available, kissing his cheeks, telling him I love him and that I will see him soon. And while I will continue to see this sweet spirit in my father’s body, I can’t truly say that it’s my father I see.
My grieving is invisible, my hurting heart hidden from plain sight.
I show up at work with a smile. I interact with friends at my son’s school. On the surface, things look much the same, yet my world has gone off its axis. I am in mourning with no marker of a definable moment. It’s a lonely place to be, and it has opened my heart to how very many of us are grieving invisibly, for so many different reasons.
A dear friend lost her cat years ago. She wasn’t able to pull herself out of her deep funk for a year. Eventually, she realized that losing her cat touched on the wound of having lost her mother decades prior. Her grief was invisible, even to herself at first.
Another friend lost his mother. He grieved her loss plus the fact that due to her substance addiction, he was mourning loss of hope of ever having an emotionally available mother. His grief was both visible (loss of life) and invisible (loss of what he’d never have).
Isn’t this true of all grieving, that what others can see is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg?
How tenderly would we treat one another if we could hold this image of the tip of the iceberg in our hearts?
Would we expect another’s grieving to follow a prescribed trajectory of acceptability? No. We would hold in our hearts the remembering that each journey is as unique as a fingerprint.
Icebergs are mostly hidden from view. I will likely never know the terrain that another must navigate.
How would another know that I am grieving a sense of loss spanning the width of early childhood? The tip of the iceberg of my father’s not remembering me is connected by heartstrings to my sadness that I barely remember my first mom. I was blessed with a beautiful second mom when my dad remarried. My iceberg tip sits atop early childhood loss of a parent.
My ship rammed up against this iceberg several months ago when my treasured maternal grandmother passed, taking with her my biological lineage connection to my first mom.
My iceberg has made for an intense year. This intensity is unique to me in terms of specific details, and not at all unique to me in that we all have icebergs of grief that will be touched and reopened whenever grief descends.
Would others expect me to spend months tending to grief over my father’s diagnosis? Would they understand why some days are spent in fetal position full of tears? Could they make sense of why I have had to spend these last few months treating myself with extra TLC simply to make it through long days? Most likely not. Others can’t see my iceberg.
Lately, I have had beautifully honest conversations with many who are grieving. A couple of friends have opened up about their unfathomable loss of a child. I have had glimpses into the grief of friends who have lost partners. Nieces. Sisters. Friends. Brothers. Parents.
I have heard about grieving wives being pressured to date far before they felt ready, interested or able. I have heard of grieving mothers being told: “At least you have other children.” Ouch. I have witnessed warrior women declare that although others may want their grieving of their child to be tidily wrapped up and put away, it cannot be done.
These women keep bravely speaking the truth of the deepest sadness that does not follow a timeline of when others believe their grieving should be complete, as if grief is ever complete. Honesty says that grief does not complete itself. It shifts.
With loss comes grief. Grief is a given. Invisible grief remains hidden. May we all move compassionately through the waters, remembering that every ship we see on grief’s sea is maneuvering around an iceberg, the likes of which we simply cannot understand.
It seems to me that the cloak of invisibility worn by those invisibly grieving is no less than a superhero’s cape. While tossing and turning on mourning’s high seas, it can take Herculean strength to simply get out of bed some days. It can take immense strength to acknowledge that one must amp up radical self-care. Sometimes, that looks like pajamas, naps, chocolate on the bedside table and mental health days.
It is for my grieving friends, for myself, and for those of us with icebergs (translation: all of us) that the following poured from my pen.
I Will Not Tell You How to Grieve
I will not tell you how to grieve, for I don’t know all that you’re grieving.
I won’t tell you how long you should grieve, for I won’t know when you’re done, as if you can ever be done.
I won’t know when you’ve begun to grieve, for the shock that can rock you might leave you numb.
And grieving only happens when the time is ripe.
I don’t know your time, just as you won’t know mine.
I won’t tell you not to cry. Tears not cried are tears denied.
We cry out in stress to help untangle the mess.
We need to feel to heal the messes.
Life is messy; grief the messiest.
I won’t tell you, “At least you’ll have your memories.”
“At least…” nothing.
I won’t tell you that your loved one is still here in spirit,
insulting your ache of wanting to wrap your arms around them.
I won’t tell you how long it should take, what it should look like, or what the grief of others with similar losses looked like.
There are no similar losses.
Others’ grief is their own, just as yours is your own.
I will do my best not to say anything that undermines what you feel, judges how you feel, or how you express/don’t express it.
I will hope for that same space in your heart as I navigate the uncharted waters of my iceberg.
I will not tell you how to grieve.
Tracy Stamper is a dancer at heart, in mind, of body, and with words. She is blessed and blissed to call dancing her profession, thanks to the transformational conscious movement form of Nia. She teaches Nia classes and offers Nia White Belt Trainings for fellow dancers at heart, in mind, and of body. Tracy lives in St. Louis in a home on a little hill, with a whimsical wind sculpture out front, and two crazy rescue beagle boy dogs and the two human loves of her life inside. Her current favorite colors are purple, orange and glitter. She likes her chocolate dark, her little bubble of a world Personalitics-free, her inspiration flowing, and her car dances to be uninhibited. You can connect with her via her website or Facebook.