Earthquake

sunset over the reception after my father’s funeral, 12/3/17, photo by Grace

How shall the heart be reconciled/ to its feast of losses?

I’ve written about these lines, from Stanley Kunitz’s beautiful poem The Layers, many times.  That fact makes me shake my head now … I never knew what loss meant, until these weeks, so it feels naive that I was writing about it at all.  Maybe I was getting ready, in some strange way. I do think all our experiences add up to where we are, and in retrospect things make sense, so perhaps the circling around impermanence, and loss, that I’ve been doing here and in other writing, has been some kind of preparation or prescience.

In October, I shared a photograph on Instagram with a caption about how September had felt like an earthquake for our family.  I almost worry about sharing this piece today, for fears of what tremors lie ahead. Am I jinxing us? Every time I think the earth has stopped shaking, there’s another rupture ahead.  This one, my father’s death last month, is for sure the largest for me.  By a mile.

Dad was the center of my world, his is the voice I hear in my head, he was my first and most essential advisor, counselor, and sometime critic.  My mother, who I’ve described as “like the sun, surrounded by orbiting planets,” is an integral part of my daily life, much more than Dad ever was.  But his influence in some ways loomed even larger, and until the day I die it will be his approval and opinion I seek above all others.  His loss is immense, and to come on the heels of of my father-in-law’s death feels almost inconceivable.

I designed our holiday cards before Matt’s dad died.  They feature a photo that’s not great of us four, notable because we are in motion.  The whole card was about things being blurry due to change: 2 new jobs, 2 new schools, half of our nest now empty.  At Labor Day, this had already been a huge year of transition and change.  And then came September and November, and back to back deaths, and suddenly we are deep in grief on top of breathless from all that’s new. It occurred to me only as I wrote this post that it’s these two men’s names that I have, one my middle, maiden, and professional, and one my married and legal.  I’m proud to have both of their names, and grateful for the enormous ways that both shaped me.

I’m struggling to catch my breath and to find my footing.  I keep thinking of Kunitz’s lines, and about how this autumn has truly been a feast of losses. There are two other lines of writing I’m thinking of a lot these days.  One is Mary Oliver: “Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.”  Dad gave me a box of darkness, in his death, yes, but also, I’m beginning to understand, in his life.  The seam of sorrow that ran through his heart I recognize in myself.  He and I talked about light and darkness often, but it’s one conversation I remember particularly vividly.  He quoted a passage from Paradise Lost from memory.  He was comfortable with life’s poles, and knew the way that one enriched the other.  I have written about this a lot, and I suspect it’s his single most enduring gift to me.

The other passage I keep hearing in my head is Khalil Gibran: “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being,the more joy you can contain.”  I have long believed this to be true, and I already knew I was capable of deep sorrow and deep joy both.  These last few months, however, have shown me new depths of loss and sadness, and I suspect it will take a while for me to experience the commensurate joy.

I really do feel like I’m standing in the rubble of an earthquake, and what’s new since the last time I mentioned an earthquake in October is my fear there are more startling, unanticipated shocks coming. Maybe there are.  I can’t focus on that now. What I do know is that I’m changed forever after this fall, and I’ll never stop missing my father-in-law or my father.  I am still deep in mourning, but even from this dark, dark place I feel undeniable gratitude that both of them were in my life.  “Though much is taken, much abides.”  Indeed.


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6 Comments

  1. Amy
    Posted December 19, 2017 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    One of my favorite Mary Oliver quotes. I’m in awe of your perspective during this difficult time.

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  2. Jane Kennedy
    Posted December 19, 2017 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    Dear Lindsey, I feel for you. My father has been gone now for 34 years and I still think of him every day. He was charismatic, extremely interested in everything and everyone around him. Even right now I can think of a dozen, some silly things he said. Like be happy. The sun is shining, the sky is blue. Or be quiet and get in the car, you’re going to have a good time whether you want to or not. Or Dad’s home at the top of his voice as he came in the door. Or when speaking with a new acquaintance, he could almost always find someone they knew in common whether he was in Hawaii, Mexico, or Michigan. I get tearful thinking of these silly things, but it keeps him alive in my heart. My Mom, brother and sister and I talk about him often even though we live in separate states. If there is some special event like an outside birthday or wedding and the weather suddenly shapes up, we always say “Dad was watching.” I’m sorry to tell you that you’ll probably always miss him pretty desperately, but as long as your memories of him live and you think about him and talk about him, he’s still there. And you’ll laugh, too. My deepest sympathies.

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  3. Jeana
    Posted December 19, 2017 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

    oh this post. I have little in common with you, no kids… different life. I’m not sure how I found your writing, but I come back to it. I work with my dad, we often do not get along. We fought today and I was not proud of my behavior and I suspect he was not, of his. Neither apologized. It’s terrible because he is unwell and getting old. We are two of the same people, emotional and sensitive and subject to the poles, and too proud. My mom is unlike us. Hence our explosive relationship. I don’t know what I’ll do when he’s gone. I have felt earthquakes for several years which have gone on unabated, and leave me with ptsd-like anxiety daily. It was not always like this. I believe that this run will not last, and when joy comes, it will be a flood. I think I’ve just read your post 5 times. I’m so sorry for your loss.

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  4. Posted December 19, 2017 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

    Oh Lindsey. I’ve been thinking about you. There really is nothing to compare to loosing a parent. I am so, so sorry that you are going through this now especially when the world is so dark. I keep thinking about you and the solstice and hoping that the turn to light brings even a tiny bit of relief. xo

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  5. pamela
    Posted December 21, 2017 at 11:21 pm | Permalink

    Lindsey,

    This is one of your most beautiful posts. I am so sorry for this darkness and for this loss. Unfortunately, the words I count on always fail me when talking about grief. We need seasons for that. Or storms or earthquakes.

    Don’t lose heart, even when you lose heart. That box of darkness is no joke. So make sure that you seek light, light, light.

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  6. Elizabeth Thomas
    Posted December 23, 2017 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

    Lindsey, I’ve thought of you often these past few weeks. I remember after my mom’s sudden death a grief counselor told me, “it’s like being hit with a baseball at 100 MPH without having any time to react. All you can do is absorb the impact.” It’s an image I’ve come back to many times over the past 15 years. You’re right: you’re standing in the rubble, sifting through the shattered pieces of your life, trying to figure out how to put it all back together again. And in the midst of this season? There is nothing harder. No words to say other than I’m thinking of you.

    [Reply]

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