Mourning is a cycle, spinning over and over, and I’m not sure when it will stop. The five stages of grief exist, but they don’t necessarily happen in order, and they don’t happen just once. They keep moving in a general loop, yet they’re unpredictable; the intensity sometimes fades, but the pattern keeps repopulating itself.
I am able to reach acceptance, but there’s no triumph in that accomplishment. It is a sad place. It isn’t a place I really want to be, so I slip back into denial. Then I have to plunge into the icy water of reality, mentally replay the loss, and sit with the absence for a while. It’s lonely.
I am not yet used to how different things are now, and I have to frequently remind myself to create new behaviors and responses to replace long-established habits. For instance: When I travel, I instinctively look for a postcard to send to Dad. It is OK to think of him, of course, but it still takes me a few seconds to remember that I can’t really send him a card. Or if I did, it would never reach him, because he is gone.
I haven’t slept well in months, and this is doubly frustrating because dreams are the only place where my mind can regress beyond denial and temporarily bask in an extinct existence. I can dream about the life I used to know, without the internal scold whipping me into looking at the cold, sad facts. I know the happiness is not real, but the escape is still welcome whenever it comes. Dream-Dad comforts me as he would if he were still here, and things feel better.
Sometimes, if the air and light are just right, I let myself forget while I’m awake, too. Just for a minute. The last time I did it, I was walking down 21st Street on a quiet morning. For a city block, I allowed myself to pretend. The sun on my back felt like being loved, and I slowed my pace to feel less alone for a little bit longer. Eventually, I had to turn left on Mission, where buildings were blocking the light. I returned to accepting the unwelcome truth, but for a tiny sliver of time, I got away from it.
I don’t know if this coping mechanism is normal. I’m not sure it’s completely healthy, but it’s not like I do it often or stay stuck in that reverie. Occasionally it is what I need to do just to get through the day, because sometimes the absence is overwhelming. I know things will get easier as time passes, and that I will be able to think of my father without feeling so sad, but right now it is still difficult. I need him, he isn’t here, and so the cycle begins anew.