Grief Diary, 10/1/12


Dad died today.

I’m surprised at how upset I am. This death was entirely expected. It was even wanted. He has been in such shitty shape for years; his life has been close to useless, to himself or anyone else, for months if not years. We’ve been on deathwatch for years, advanced deathwatch for months, super-advanced deathwatch for weeks. And yet when the call came, it still knocked the breath out of me. I was still only able to listen to my brother for about ten minutes before I had to get off the phone, that minute, that second, to call Ingrid and tell her to come home.

My moods today have been like weather on an unsteady day: pouring rain one minute, sunny ten minutes later, overcast and foggy ten minutes after that. I have stretches where I’m fairly calm and focused entirely on taking care of business — cancelling appointments, cancelling speaking gigs, notifying friends and colleagues — and then stretches where I’m crying and feeling overwhelmed with emotion, and then stretches where I’m in a daze, staring at walls, unable to decide even the smallest thing. These moods are entirely unpredictable. I don’t have any idea from minute to minute which I’m going to be feeling.

Packing to go home, I felt like Willow in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” in the episode “The Body,” the one where Buffy’s mom has just died. The scene where Willow is trying to figure out what to wear to meet her friend at the morgue. I kept staring at my closet, obsessively trying to pick the exact right clothes, feeling like everything in my closet was wrong: too snazzy, too fashionable, too flashy, too dressy, too official, too colorful, too sexy. I picked out the things that seemed to strike the right balance — calm, respectful, reasonably comfortable — and realized that all of it was black or gray. Too somber. Not right either. I spent way too much time and energy thinking about it. Funny how you can know you’re displacing, and still keep displacing anyway.

That “nothing is right” feeling. That applies to more than packing clothes. It’s how I’ve been feeling all day. No matter what I’m doing, it doesn’t feel right. When I’m falling apart, I think about all the business I need to be taking care of; when I’m taking care of business, I wonder how I can be so cold-blooded — hours, even minutes, after I learned that my father has died, and here I am calmly emailing about work matters. When I’m sitting quietly, I’m restless and want to be moving; when I’m walking, I’m exhausted and want to sit down. It’s been this way for a few weeks, actually, ever since Rick called to tell me Dad was in home hospice care, ever since the depression hit. But it was worse today.

At least today, though, I feel like I have permission. When Dad was just sick, when he was dying but we didn’t know that for sure, I couldn’t just give in to it. I couldn’t just fall apart and feel horrible. If I’d fallen apart every day that Dad might be dying, I would have spent the last five years falling apart. Now that he’s dead, it finally feels legitimate to fucking fall apart already. And then to get started putting the pieces back together.

Ingrid is being so patient. Every shift in mood, she follows. When I need to take care of business and bury myself in my computer, she buries herself in hers. When I fall apart, she holds me. When I jabber, she listens. When I stare into nothing, she holds my hand. Nothing in the world like someone who’s known you better than anyone, for close to fifteen years.

Ungenerous thoughts of the day: Now I can start planning my life again, without feeling like I have an anvil hanging over my head. Now I can start scheduling talks, conferences, etc…. without having this constant “I might have to cancel at the last minute” caveat in the background. Now I can definitely punt the deadline on the new book, and nobody will blame me or get mad at me. Now Ingrid and I can definitely go on our anniversary getaway in January.

I keep feeling like I’ve forgotten how to breathe. I keep feeling like I’ve been holding my breath. I keep feeling like I’m not getting enough air, like I have to take a deep breath, like my breathing has been shallow, like I have a band around my chest.

I am loving atheism right now. Atheism has been hard lately, what with the flying hate monkeys of misogyny and all. But today on my blog, and on Atheism Plus, and in my email inbox, and on Facebook and Twitter, everyone has been wonderful. Supportive, kind, compassionate, loving, insightful, gentle. And nobody is telling me comforting lies. Nobody is telling me that reality isn’t real. It is such a relief to have a space — to have more than one space, to have space in my blog and in Atheism Plus and in Facebook and in Grief Beyond Belief, and for that matter in my own godless family — where I can tell the truth about how I’m feeling, and know that it’s safe. It is such a relief to know that I have spaces where I can tell harsh truths about death and people won’t be shocked, where nobody will gaslight me with bullshit dressed as rainbow sparkles. As painful as it is, I would rather have the ground feel solid under my feet.

I also deeply love that I am getting intense, sincere, deeply compassionate condolence comments from people named Squiddhartha, and Randomfactor, and Alethea H. “Crocoduck” Dundee, and mildlymagnificent, and fullyladenswallow, and Tony, Prom King of Sunnydale High, and Setár, genderqueer Elf-Sheriff of Atheism+, and Zinc Avenger (Sarcasm Tags 3.0 Compliant), and WMDKitty (Always growing and learning). Sometimes I love the Internet. I love the unique blend of goofy, wild, flatly ridiculous creativity with serious-as-a-heart-attack seriousness. Hundreds of years from now, people will be analyzing Internet culture of the early 21st century and trying to make heads or tails out of it. I love being part of it.

That’s enough for tonight. Flying home tomorrow. I need to try to pretend to get some sleep.

Grief Diary, 10/1/12

41 thoughts on “Grief Diary, 10/1/12

  1. 4

    My condolences on your loss.

    My Dad passed away several years ago, after battling lung cancer. I’ve been where you are now. I found non-belief comforting qnd hated religious platitudes, too.

    If it helps, I found that time helped the grief to lighten, my guilt/relief mix to recede and happy memories to replace the sadness, though I still very occasionally tear up unexpectedly.

    Be gentle with yourself, if you can. Best wishes and support.

  2. 5

    I’m sorry. I remember what it was like losing my dad (though there’s a lot of differences, of course). I remember feeling numb and just going through the motions of life for, well, a couple years afterwards.

    I don’t know if it’ll help, but I was having difficulty sleeping the other night and I started singing “Everything’s Alright” from Jesus Christ Superstar to myself. Not because it’s about Jesus or anything like that. I’d watched a clip of it on youtube earlier in the day because Tim Minchin is starring as Judas in the current production. Anyway, it made for a good lullaby.

  3. 6

    FWIW, my sympathy. My thoughts (but not prayers!) are with you and your family.
    My father died a few years ago after years of being an invalid, and for some time after that overwhelming grief would hit me out of the blue, triggered by the stupidest little things. It’s good that Ingrid is in tune with you and seems to be doing everything right; she must be a gem.
    Best regards and wishes, and please let us know how you’re doing when you have time and energy to blog.

  4. 7

    Ah, Greta, I’m sorry. I lost my own father many years ago, and it’s hard, it’s hard. Even when it’s expected.
    So grieve however you need to. Fall the fuck apart. And know this; the memory of the grief will fade, and the memory of the love will remain. In time, you’ll be free to remember the good times, and why you loved him so much. You’ll be free to remember him, and it won’t hurt. I promise.

  5. 8

    Dear Greta, first of all, big hugs. No matter how much it was expected the death of a parent cuts to the core of your being.

    You don’t have to justify your feelings to anyone and that includes yourself. Whatever you are feeling is valid.

  6. 9

    I remember feeling weirdly disconnected from the world when my parents died. Nothing can prepare you for the shock, even if the death itself is not unexpected. I did find that sharing the experience with those who also knew and loved them helped me cope, and I hope it helps for you too; I hope you have every last bit of love and support around you now and in the days to come and beyond.

  7. 11

    *hugs* I’m glad you have the support you need, and I’m glad you feel you can share this with your readers, because we care about you – including long-time lurkers like me.
    Like many other people commenting, my father died after a protracted illness (not nearly as long as five years though), and one of my first feelings was relief, both because he wasn’t struggling any more, and because my family could finally move on instead of being stuck in limbo. Not that those thoughts made it much easier to handle.
    Fall apart if that’s what you need. There is no ‘right’ way to grieve. The community is here for you no matter what.

  8. 12

    I know it feels weird to be relieved but…yeah. And it’s normal to feel *bad* about being relieved, but nobody could possibly blame you for feeling that way. (Er, nobody sensible, that is.)

    I’m very afraid of when I reach this point with my parents and my in-laws. I’m not going to deal well at all 🙁

  9. 13

    My condolences, Greta. I lost both of my parents this year, and it has been hard to deal with. Surprisingly, or maybe not, having to deal with the mundane work of handling the estate has helped keep me balanced. Hopefully, after you finish up in Chicago, you’ll be able to get back to work and regain some balance. In the meantime, don’t be afraid, or ashamed, of grieving.

  10. 14

    Now that he’s dead, it finally feels legitimate to fucking fall apart already. And then to get started putting the pieces back together.

    Yes, fall apart for as long as you need to. Because of you try to “hold it together” you tend to have pieces falling off at inopportune moments.

    Ungenerous thoughts of the day: Now I can start planning my life again, without feeling like I have an anvil hanging over my head.

    You did have an anvil hanging over your head! The relief is not “ungenerous”. It’s human.

  11. 15

    My sincerest condolences. Thank you for all you have written in the past about grief and now about your feeling through your Dad’s long illness because they have helped me very much in a situation similar to yours, only the sick person is my husband. I still have my husband and what you have written will help me to enjoy every day in whatever way it comes. All the best.

  12. 16

    Deepest sympathies, Greta. No-one can tell you how to grieve. Be as you need to be.

    I don’t know if this will help at all, but: the past is not less real because it’s over. Your father’s life is not less real because he has died.

  13. 17

    Greta, your feelings of relief are not “ungenerous,” they’re real and do not in any way deserve reproach, especially from you yourself. Death reminds us that life goes on—not in the supernatural sense, but in the here and now.

    One person’s death draws together the people affected by it, and they each take a bit of the departed one with them as they return to their lives. Some take it in their memories, others in their DNA, but life itself is the constant.

  14. 19

    You have mt condolences and sympathies, Greta.

    Take care of yourself, one day at a time. Don’t ever be ashamed of crying, or any other emotional reaction! You’re human, and your feelings are normal and healthy. I’m glad that you have Ingrid to support you through this.

    Take care of yourself.

  15. 20

    Greta, it means more than I can say that something as simple as my pseudonym was able to help bring you a moment of relief during your grieving. Best wishes to you and your family at this difficult time.

  16. 21

    I also experienced that “Willow” moment when my nephew died. I threw a huge hissy fit throwing clothes around the bedroom thinking I had absolutely nothing appropriate to wear over to my mother’s house. It must be much more common to feel that “nothing feels right” emotion that I’ve realized. I think that is what is good about having conversations about grief.

    Please let us know at any time if there is something your readers can do for you. My thoughts are with you. Take care.

  17. 22

    Hey Greta,
    I’m so sorry for your loss. Thank you for celebrating life instead of death. At times like this I find it helpful to remember that we’ve all beaten the incredible odds against us, by simply being born.


  18. 23

    I’m so sorry, Greta. Sending virtual hugs to you.

    My mom died over four years ago, after being ill for 15 years. We knew it was coming, and still it knocked the wind right out of me when I watched the life leave her face. I couldn’t speak about her around other people for the longest time, because I would just weep. I still miss her so much, but it does get better.

    Just go ahead and feel it — all the way to your bones. Rage, cry, laugh, sit and stare, whatever needs doing at any given moment. You’re going to feel it all anyway, and trying to tamp it down just prolongs the pain. Just make sure you go all the way through it. Don’t get stuck.

    I’ll say to you what I said to my dad and sisters, before they could say she was “in a better place” or “in heaven” — (S)He lives in our hearts now.

  19. 26

    I know you are probably already thinking of the huge, incalculable luck that your Dad represents. Luck that he was alive in the first place, luck that he got to have you as his daughter, and luck on behalf of the rest of the world that we got to have both him and you in it, with all the myriad good things people like you do for it. Shedding a tear in Louisville for your loss, and sending an electronic hug.

  20. 28

    We (me and my partner) went through this in June. We alternated between the deepest, raw, burning grief, relief, blankness, rage, fear, panic… That was extended by the need for an inquest, which meant no cause of death, no death certificate until this week.

    But the slightest thing will tip either of us off. I’ll watch something on tv and think “Oh dad will love this”, and then my heart drops through the floor and my eyes flood.

    Please remember that you are entitled to any and all feelings, needs, emotions and desires that crop up during this time. There is no right way to grieve, no correct or appropriate way to mourn. What’s right for you is what’s right for you.

    I’m glad you have support and love, it makes everything less traumatic. My partner and I both lost someone in the months before we met, and it. was all black. We both grieved for a long time. This time, with her dad, we just gave everything to each other. Support, love, an ear or shoulder, permission to rage and scream,room to breathe, suggestions of coping mechanisms, the reassurance. that whatever feelings we had were right and appropriate.

    I’m beyond glad that you have that kind of support. Take comfort in that and in your fuzzkids. I know I don’t know you but I respect and admire you, and I wish I could help to take away the deep hurt.

    Love and light from both of us, here in the UK, to both of you. Take care of each other.


  21. 29

    Just wanted to let you know I’m another atheist out here who’s thinking about you at this time of sorrow.

    Not that it matters — I’m middle-aged, white, male, and straight.

  22. 30


    We all react differently. I was quite relieved when our dad died. But then I was a 24/7 nurse for the last 6 weeks. And he lived here in Phoenix, so we saw him a lot during his last three years as he deteriorated.

    Be good to yourself and let your friends take care of you.

  23. 31

    And I am old white female and straight – and human.
    Still sending hugs.
    Wear the black and grey. It will help. We can’t avoid society’s requirements, and the colours reinforce how you will be treated by acquaintances – gently, because you are grieving.
    We seem to choose these colours during times like these. It’s OK. It’s all right.
    Wear turquoise with lime green polkadots if you please, but don’t beat yourself up for spending some time in black and grey.

  24. 33

    My condolences, Greta. Losing a parent is hard. When my father died it ripped me apart even though my relationship with him wasn’t good and he’d been ill for years. Having a loved one to pour your heart out to at a time like this is a great help. I’m glad you have someone in your life who can be there for you in that way.

  25. 34

    Sorry to hear the news Greta. As many others have noted, no matter how expected it is (for 11 months every call from my family had my heart racing) when it finally happens, it’s a whole ‘nother world. But yes, there is some relief to feeling like you can finally fall apart. I tried to remain relatively strong for my Dad when my Mom died, then when I got back home, it hit me that I really hadn’t let myself fall apart yet. I did, and it felt healthy (though sucky for sure) like finally exhaling after holding your breath for a while. Letting it all out.

    For what it’s worth, it’s a really great thing that you are writing about grieving and death from an atheist perspective, on a popular blog. These issues were very much on my mind as I dealt with my Mom’s death. I felt a strange amount of comfort in the fact that even despite a situation where people often embrace the supernatural for selfish reasons, my outlook was completely unmoved in that regard. If anything the horrific trips to intensive care reminded me of the cold, indifferent nature of biology and the human body etc. I dunno, it was just strangely comforting. And I also bristled at the idea of all the people who I knew would offer prayers and religious-speak. Surprisingly there weren’t very many.

    Sounds like Ingrid takes pretty good care of you in all the ways that matter. That will definitely help you through the rough times ahead.

  26. 35

    Always been a lurker, and avid consumer of your writings.

    Now, I have to extend my own sympathies and empathy. Today I’m “commemorating” the third anniversary of my father’s (not entirely unexpected) death, and have read in your post everything I remember feeling and still feel to some extent today.

    Virtual, but not meaningless, hugs to you, and your family. You will get through this, and you’ll be the one helping others through it. Much love.

  27. 37

    I know it must be rough, here’s just a note to let you know that I’m wishing you well. I know it must hurt, and it will continue to hurt for awhile. I don’t really know what to say, as everything I can think of feels trite. I just hope this expression of sympathy helps in some small way.

  28. 39


    You have my deepest condolences and sympathies.

    Even when the final resolution has been expected, it isn’t any easier when it comes.

    My only wish is for you to find happiness in the memories of those past and solace & happiness in those present.

  29. 41

    Grief seems like the kind of thing that gets dumped on us in vast quantities, and our job at that point is to process some number of units of grief per moment until it’s mostly gone.

    When the throughput is too high, we fall to pieces.

    When it’s too low, we stand dazed. Maybe relieved, until it rises again.

    Seems that the better we live our lives, the more often we’re going to experience this. Fortunately, the better we live, the more likely we’ll have people at hand to help us handle it all.

    Add my virtual hugs to the others as a patch when the throughput is too high and you feel like bursting.

    – emc

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