I remember the first time we sat around my parents’ dining table after my father died. Apart from him we were all there. Nobody sat in his chair, nobody spoke about it who should or even whether we should. It didn’t feel right. Actually nothing felt right but most especially us without him. How horrible and uncomfortable was this feeling. To me my family was unpalatable and tasteless as though a vital ingredient in the mix had been left out. “So this is how it will be from now on”, I thought to myself. We had no choice but to grow used to the new flavour that was us even though it was all wrong, even hateful.
That was sixteen years ago and over time we have worked to create what we can with the ingredients that are left. There are many days though where I am holding the bowl that contains myself, my mum and four siblings, stirring angry tears into the mix, I hate the way I can’t fix and replace or restore what is lost.
Today I opened a book I have called ‘Grieving the Loss of a Loved One’ by Kathe Wunnenberg. It’s styled a devotional companion and my aunt, my dad’s sister, gave it to me not long after he died. I noticed my entries that dried up a year after his death are about half way through the book. That’s at the end of Section 5 : Crying. So that’s after working through Denying, Venting, Questioning and Bargaining.
Section 6 moves on to Surrendering, followed by Accepting, Praising, Being, Celebrating, Relating and Living. There is a part of me that feels I am still too angry to move through the rest of the process even though it’s been such a long time. I have been more or less good at holding it all together all this time. I do accept that some of my ‘Why?’ questions might never be answered. Such as why his death had to be such a drawn out four day process of having little idea where he was. And why my uncle had to live with grim memories of having to identify a body which was only recognisable by his tie as he’d been in water all that time and his face was destroyed from a gun-shot wound. Or why we were still living in a crime ridden Johannesburg which he was trying to to put plans into place to leave. I’m definitely still angry about those why’s.
I would like to move on from the hurt of grief, if that was possible and they say it’s good to open wounds to enable healing. I’m not sure one does ‘move on’. Maybe the pain is not as intense but you never forget and there are still times when remembering is a physical sensation in my gut. During those first days when everything was so bewilderingly changeable and inconstant I had the image of God in my head as the Rock and found comfort in knowing that although everything around me may have changed forever, He was the one thing I could count on to always remain the same. At that time of searching when we didn’t know whether my father was dead or alive, the first lines of Psalm 121 came to mind “I lift up my eyes to the mountains – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Maker of heaven and earth”.
So today I started the journal again and marvel once more at the way the Psalms echo my thoughts. Wow, these words from Psalm 42: “My tears have been my food day and night…deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls, all your waves and breakers have swept over me…I say to God my Rock ‘Why must I go about mourning?’ Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.” I have been overcome at times and yet He is still my Rock and my Salvation, there is no other that could compare with what he has done and what gives us.
I will work on through the rest of the book my aunt gave to me. I know there is no such thing as going back to what we had before but there is hope in finding new ways of living without forgetting what was good then. I’m trusting too that what remains in the recipe can be remade into something good to be brought to others as a blessing. Maybe the recipe can be rewritten in a way that incorporates a new generation of our little ones. There has been increase and abundance which has brought joy. The chairs around the table have been rearranged to add all the new bodies and the flavour of get-togethers is sweeter than it was in those early grieving days. Even so, it would have been lovely for him to still be at the head, to savour that which we now have.