the sturdiness of my disbelief

I’m surrounded by kind, thoughtful people who ask now and then how I’m doing.  The question is not simple to answer.  In some ways I feel mostly ok, as though I’m moving through my days with a new, stubborn shadow over my existence but moving all the same.

In other ways I feel not at all ok, and if I’m honest, I’m a little bit surprised that that’s still true.  I didn’t think I’d “bounce back” after Dad’s death, necessarily, but I thought I’d maybe feel more functional faster.  My days oscillate between these two realities: wow, I’m doing okay, and wow, I’m still so darn sad.

But more than anything – and this is what I usually say when asked – I’m astonished by the sturdiness of my disbelief.  The sheer disbelief I feel about dad being dead can only be categorized as irrational, and I’ve never been irrational before.  Intellectually I understand that he is gone.  But emotionally I still seem to not quite get it.  At least once a day I bring myself up short with the thought that my father is dead.  It is often seeing his photograph that brings that thought to mind.  It’s also often the sudden thought, “oh, I want to tell Dad about this.”

And then … oh, wait.  No.

How long will it take to feel real?  I honestly don’t know.  We are nearing the six month mark, and I’m still as astonished by the truth of Dad being dead as I was the day after he died.  Life is clearer now, and I feel a bit closer to “normal.”  This was brought home to me last week when I finally looked through the basket of Christmas cards that has been on our front hall table since December.  I literally do not remember seeing at least half of them.  December was such a blur; in retrospect I’m sort of amazed that I walked through it.

When I think of those first weeks, when I’m confronted with evidence of how “other” that time was (like the cards, which I definitely opened, read, and put in the basket) that feels like another life.  The days and weeks since then have crawled by, as I’ve mentioned.  Yet it’s still not real that Dad’s dead.  I can’t believe that I can’t believe it, and yet I can’t. The phrase I return to over and over is sturdy disbelief.  Like the sturdy joy of which I wrote several years ago, this feeling of not-real-ness is immovable, stubborn, solid. Maybe it’s some kind of coping mechanism.  I don’t know. I have to imagine it will release its hold on me, this disbelief, and gradually Dad’s death will sink in.  But for now, I move on, daily gasping when I remember yet again that he’s gone.

Onward. Limping, but, eventually, dancing again.

9 thoughts on “the sturdiness of my disbelief”

  1. Lindsey – you may want to read Joan Didion’s book – The Year of Magical Thinking. She wrote it after the sudden death of her husband John Gregory Dunne. She describes in the most poignant ways her navigation through that first year after he was gone. I love the way she writes, with such an economy of words. Yet, she captures it all. I believe the disbelief we feel is definitely our body’s way of only letting in as much as we can process, until we can.

  2. Lindsey, I remember when my mom died that I thought that the trough of my grief would be lowest in the beginning, and that I’d steadily climb upward and out of it. I never anticipated how up and down the whole thing would be: yes, an overall upward trajectory, but many (unanticipated) peaks and valleys on the ascent. It completely shocked me. I remember thinking, “How is it possible that I could feel WORSE six months later? Aren’t I supposed to keep feeling BETTER?” All of what you’re going through is just so, so hard.

    I saw someone up above mentioned Joan Didion’s book. Do you know Meghan O’Rourke’s “The Long Goodbye?” If not, I think it might be excellent bibliotherapy right about now.

  3. I have read both Didion and O’Rourke’s books – both so wonderful. Thank you. And I’m glad to know I’m not crazy for the winding way time seems to be treating me right now (or, maybe I mean healing, rather than time). xx

  4. Lindsey, my Dad has been gone now for almost 35 years. He had , I think, a similar place in my life and my brother and sister as your Dad did in yours. I was 33 so a little younger than you are, but can still keenly remember feeling how can everything go on just the same without him in this world. Every day I still think of at least some little thing he said. Like why worry, what’s the worst that can happen? Or it’s a beautiful day. Be happy that you have a car to drive, a job you love and people who love you. When my siblings and I text someone invariably says something that Dad would say. I really do still miss him everyday, but it was such a privilege to have him for a father. We were so lucky, you and I. My dad and probably yours would probably say – hug your husband and son, call your daughter, put a smile on your face as often as you can and just keep going. I think you’re doing great.

  5. Don’t apologize for what you feel, how complex it is and how long you feel it, there’s no normal and it’s all highly personal. When I read your post I thought of Anne Lamott’s 2017 TED Talk that I happened to watch yesterday, especially her last point on death and grief. I hope this may comfort you a little.

  6. It makes total sense that the disbelief would linger. I lost a friend last week and I can’t believe it either, even though I went to his funeral. The landscape of every grief is different, but I think disbelief is a part of many of them.

  7. We have moved house since my dad died, but I still remember sitting in our old family room, looking out into the entryway, and feeling like if I lifted a veil and walked through it, I could walk back into my normal life that looked and sounded and smelled just like this new one but that had Dad in it. I find that I’m different in weird ways: if our book group votes on a book that is described as disturbing or emotionally wrenching, for example, I no longer read it. I do better with non-fiction these days, maybe because there are no horrible surprises like my dad’s sudden death. (e.g. re-reading Chernow’s Hamilton, and it’s not exactly a spoiler that our hero gets killed in a duel with Aaron Burr. And for some reason, that predictability is now what I need from a book.)

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