My father died on a beautiful, clear winter night, two-and-a-half years ago. At first I was wrapped up in shock. Then disbelief, crushing sadness, bewilderment, anger, depression, blackness, emptiness. Grief was my invisible blanket. I have clung to it every day since his death, and in its strange way it has provided some security. It’s a reliable companion. If you’ve endured the loss of a loved one, I trust you have some sense of what I’m trying to say.
I felt he had simply vanished into thin air. I could not feel him anymore. For a long time I felt so totally disoriented and vulnerable. I begged him to talk to me, but I only heard silence.
I can close my eyes and feel his hand tightly around mine, and feel his stubbly cheek against mine, wet with tears on the last day we ever spoke, the last time I saw him before the deathbed held him down. I am frantic that that memory might fade and grow cold in time. I am terrified I might forget how he felt, that the sensation of his face against mine will disappear. It’s all I have left, this unutterable treasure of skin and bone and touch; fatherly warmth and filial affection. I long to stay in that moment with my arms wrapped around him.
But he is no longer here, and I have wrapped grief around myself instead. I fear it’s the only way I have to keep him with me.
Final For Now
Our Christian faith tells us with certainty that death is not the end. Death doesn’t have the last word. That is true. Yet death is still final for now. The one we love is not here anymore to hold or touch or talk to. Life keeps going forward and we must go with it, without the loved one we ache for.
I don’t think my father wants me to stay wrapped up in grief forever. I think he wants me to be brave, and let that old blanket be transformed, little by little, into a blanket of remembrance and gratitude and life. It’s going to take courage, but I think he wants me to trust that I don’t need to be wrapped in sadness and loss in order to keep him close. There will be bright days again. There will be joy again. It is okay to live.
I am still wrapped in my father’s embrace, and death cannot take that away. Stay with me, Dad. I’m still getting used to this new blanket.
In the wee hours of morning recently, in that mysterious haze between sleep and waking, I saw him. His appearance was different somehow, in a way I can’t articulate. He beamed with joy. Not just happiness, but radiant joy. He didn’t say anything. He opened his arms to me, and I hesitated. Was it really him? Then I felt those arms close around me, and every doubt evaporated. I knew that strong frame and that embrace. I sank completely into him with relief and contentment. His cheek, his arms, his shoulder, his love. He felt like home.
Jennifer Hartline is a Senior Contributor to The Stream and has been published extensively at Catholic Online and at Catholic Stand. A proud Army wife and mother of four children, she is studying theology at Holy Apostles College and Seminary. Her previous article was His Parents Would Not Hold Him. A longer version of “Grief Was My Invisible Blanket” appeared on The Stream as A New Blanket.