Life punched me in my stomach. A fierce blow delivered by a massive fist that pummeled me mercilessly. Bile burned my throat, and I tried to swallow back the pain, but an altered consciousness enveloped me, held me down against my will.
My dad died.
A few minutes of time changed my life forever. The path I walked so confidently heaved, buckled, and then tore away. The earth shifted and tilted. The wind whipped me off my feet and flung me into an angry ocean of grief.
For months, living weighed me down. Bricks stacked one by one upon my chest each night to where breathing became a challenge each morning. No one told me this pain would overwhelm me.
Some people offered support and kindness for a week or two. But the attitude became “snap out of it.” Other people confided that I’d been thrown into a huge, endless sea. It will take years, they said, to reach shore. And when I do reach land, nothing will be the same. So like Odysseus, my life is at the mercy of Poseidon as I flounder on the waters of grief.
During my first weeks, I’d break the water’s surface. My hands flailed helplessly as I gasped for air. My lungs ached from the pressure of the water squeezing me, forcing me down. My vision blurred with unexpected tears. One, two, three inhalations, and down I’d go again. Massive waves towered overhead and somersaulted me head over heels—down, down, down until I hit the sandy bottom and skidded to a grinding, painful stop. The abrasive sands of sadness peeled my skin and left me bleeding and raw. Then I’d slowly drift upward, limp and damaged, and float on the surface like a piece of flotsam
Wave after wave pounded me until waking, moving, sleeping, and thinking became impossible.
And this became my journey, my trip through grief that nears the first year’s anniversary. I don’t know when the bricks stacked upon my chest eased off. Eventually, I realized that in the mornings I could breathe without restriction. I do remember a day in March when I broke through the surface of the water and another tidal wave did not wipe me out. Instead, I stayed afloat. For the first time, I could feel the sun’s warm caress stroke my skin. Spring breezes sighed softly, and bird call filled the air. The hurricane force winds disappeared. Since then, I’ve sighted land. It’s distant still. A misty outline that I swim toward. I no longer float helplessly with the current. And although waves sometimes sweep out of nowhere to pull me under, it doesn’t happen as frequently or as fiercely.
I now know that eventually I’ll touch ground again. The tears that stung my eyes won’t fight for release. Once I make landfall, I’ll smile whenever I think of Dad. His corny jokes, hearty laugh, and sharp wit will come to me and I’ll welcome them with smiles and joy.
Copyright 2002 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman
My father died unexpectedly on September 10, 2001. The support system that you'd expect to receive from friends and co-workers became overshadowed by the events of the next day. At the funeral home, the news ran as we discussed plans for Dad. As he was a retired deputy sheriff, many of his friends and colleagues were on alert, making a viewing within the next couple of days impossible. Dad wanted to be interred at Ft. Sam Houston Cemetery, but that had to be delayed for another three weeks. Everything became surreal for our family.
My father and my mother hiking on their property in Leakey, Texas.