My father died almost two weeks ago, and I’ve been wandering around in a Mourning Fog ever since.
Even though Dad’s death was expected, and even though I’d suffered innumerable bouts of anticipatory grief as Dad has declined these past few years, being present at Dad’s last breath has unmoored me.
Now that the rituals of mourning are over, the friends and family have gone home and the funeral foods eaten, I walk about stunned.
My father’s dead.
I’m also at the front of the line: there’s no more buffer between death and me. As one friend who lost his parents years ago says, “I’m now bucking the wind for the family.” It’s different, being at the leading edge.
MY FATHER’S DESK
Yesterday, I gave my father’s desk to a stranger.
My parents purchased the desk in the early 1980’s as part of furnishing their library, complete with matching bookcases and cabinets in a room with a fireplace and a sofa. Every time my parents downsized, this furniture was rearranged and pieces passed on to grandchildren setting up their first homes. But the desk stayed with Dad right up to the end.
It’s seven-and-a-half long and has three narrow drawers and three deep ones. In his prime, it was at this desk that Dad kept meticulous records of his finances and filed his correspondence with his children and grandchildren. It was at this desk that he wrote his memoirs, which survive.
I’d hoped to donate it to a local non-profit, but ended up giving it to a stranger for his personal use. I’d guess he was in his seventies, and hale: not thinking about mortality at all.
This bothered me. I wanted him to know more about my father, or at least to acknowledge that he was taking a dead man’s desk, and that some day he’d die too – just like my dad.
This was the mourning fog descending without warning and despite the sunshine.
Mourning fog seems to consist of the condensation of thoughts about dying. What is it? What happens? What do I want to do before it’s my time?
The fog lifted by the time I returned to the pine table that is my desk, where I finished my work for the day. After yoga class, Tim and I had a light meal of fresh vegetables, homemade bread, some cheese and white wine. The air was clear when I went to bed.
Today, I woke in the fog – the meteorological kind – that descends on our valley overnight. I watched it burn off as the sun rose. Every day, my concentration improves. Today has been mostly sunny, and I’ve hung out laundry between paragraphs. But I’m keeping my eye on the sky, alert to every cloud that crosses the sun. Despite my vigilance, I know that mourning fog can descend unexpectedly. I’ll sit with it, till it lifts.
And it will lift.
This same mourning fog engulfed me when my mother died six years ago.
Mom’s death released her from the prison of vascular dementia, which erased her memory before rendering her immobile and mute. Even though her death was a relief, its finality nevertheless sapped my usual get-up-and-go. I turned inward, letting phone calls go to voice mail and not returning them. I shunned invitations. All I wanted to do was stay home. I was overcome with weariness, as if I were living underwater. My mother died, and my universe wobbled.
This time, I recognize my grief as both a kind of self-pity and as a time to decide yet again just how it is I want to live.
My father survived infantry combat in Europe during World War II. He taught me life is a gift. I write about that here, every Wednesday. You can have these essays emailed by subscribing in the box at right.