Reflections on Grief & Loss
When I set out to start writing a blog at the beginning of 2018, I committed to publishing at the beginning of every month. It's now May 29th and I'm late. Way late. I don't know where to begin. On April 30th, I received the call we all fear. The call that says that something terrible has happened to a loved one. For me, it was my dad. He suffered a severe head trauma while protecting his 101 year old mother from a fall down the stairs. He never recovered. On the 30th I got the call from my sister that this terrible accident had occurred. In tears and panic I packed a bag while my husband bought my plane ticket. I threw clothes in a bag- I couldn't even tell what I was throwing in there. I fell to my knees in pain and panic and fear and the most immense sadness I'd ever felt. And yet, I was in disbelief that he could die. I believed there was a chance for me to will him to recover. After all, in 2005, I suffered from a blood clot in my brain as a result of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and while the illness was different, some of the symptoms were similar. I remained in this vacillating state between disbelief and heartbreak until I arrived at the hospital and saw my wonderful, sweet dad in a state I knew he would never recover from.
As often happens in these times, as a family, we desperately attached ourselves to any sign that there was improvement. He was still breathing over the respirator, he was still passing his gag and cough tests (all tests that determine brain functioning). The doctors were bleak and honest that his brain was not going to recover beyond basic brain functioning (if that) but we held on to those small signs as hope that the miracle of all miracles could actually occur. I pleaded with my dying dad. I made promises of grandchildren, of moving back to NJ, of anything that maybe would encourage some sign of life. But there was none. My 3 siblings and I made the painful but mutually consensual decision to take him off his ventilator.
My father, Jacob Hertzberg, passed away shortly after midnight on May 1st, 2018. To say there is a hole in my heart is an understatement. There is a chasm- vast and wide. Like most people, I have spent time in my life imagining what it might feel like to lose a parent. I remember as a child creating scenarios in my mind where something terrible happened. I'm not sure if we do this as a way to simply release emotion or a way of preparing ourselves for our greatest fear? Both, maybe. Whatever I felt in those moments; whatever pain I expected to feel is minuscule compared to the actual pain.
I am not writing this to scare you. This is only my experience. But I'm writing to normalize that pain and grief are a process. I find myself pushing through things that normally come easily like getting up and going to work out or spending time with friends. I don't know if I can ever take my dad out of my contacts on my phone yet I tense up and basically glaze over pictures of him, his phone number, everything that relates to him. It's like my soul and spirit just can't take absorbing the entirety of what has happened. I have been told to create time in my day to look at happy memories but I'm terrified that the sadness I feel will never end and yet, like my sister Lindsay said, there's fear in letting go of the pain because moving on somehow confirms the finality of his death.
It's been a hard road back to life and I'm still traveling it with hopes of finding a new sense of normalcy. My husband has been an absolute rock. He is dynamic in his support and accepts my feedback when what I need today is different than what I needed yesterday. My relationships with my siblings has been fortified through this. Our mothers have become better friends (blended family). I work out because the intensity of Crossfit makes thinking about anything else literally impossible. I cry every day and days when I don't, I want to and just can't get the tears out. And day by day, I move on in teensy, tiny steps that are not linear.
I want to include the eulogy I wrote for my dad. I've been told it helped some people who heard it and touched others. I hope it touches you, too.
It’s hard to know what to say. I’m at a loss. I want to reminisce about wonderful memories of us skiing together in Vail and share with you how happy I felt watching him dance and laugh at our wedding. I want to tell you exactly how he inspired my love of adventure and taught me how to see a problem from all angles and actually fix it. I want to speak to the times he helped me in numerous ways but all that comes up for me is the most profound sadness I have ever felt. And I can’t seem to focus on the former. But this is a eulogy. It’s supposed to be about him. My dad was my go-to guy. Home repairs? Call dad. Car buying? Call dad. The best salmon marinade recipe? call dad. Sometimes just wanting to hear the man who held me when I was a sick kid and sang me “Shloof” to put me to sleep and bailed me out of my own mistakes tell me he loved me, well yeah, I’d call my dad.
As a marriage therapist, I have taught couples the principles of the 5 Love Languages for years. But I recently had a revelation that the research was all wrong. There aren’t 5 love languages- there are 6 and my dad was a master at expressing this 6th love language- of feeding people he loved. It was nearly impossible to be hungry at his house and even more so to leave that way. It was just his way and he expressed it with such joy. If you ever left with a ham and cheese sandwich or a hunk of kielbasa and some soup, you can bet he loved you.
The thing you realize when your parent is on the precipice of death is that there is only love left. Any frustration or anger or annoyance you may have felt at any point in your life is gone. All that is left is absolute and unconditional love and admiration. I would give anything for the opportunity to tell him how much I love him and to hear him say the same. I love you dad. I don’t know how to do this life without you but maybe I don’t have to. I think I know how to carry your legacy forward- by being kind and generous, by maintaining a loyalty to friends and family that is beyond reproach, by feeding those I love as a gesture of care taking and love, and of course, by shopping at Costco.
Last night I had a dream that I couldn’t see. My vision was cloudy and no matter how hard I rubbed my eyes, no matter how hard I tried to focus, the blurriness and cloudiness wouldn’t go away. That’s exactly how I feel. I just can’t see how to do this life without him.
This morning, my friend sent me this quote by Khalil Gibran: When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth, you are weeping for that which has been your delight. He was a delight for so many of us.