Saturday, April 28, 2012

Navigating Turbulant Waters

My feelings may certainly change, but today I do not believe there are certain and absolute stages of grief (a list) or that you must go through all of those stages to cope, to heal, to move on. However, most telling is that the navigation of our own stages of grief will influence the decisions we make, the relationships we are able to nurture, the rest of our lives -  in general.

Is this the 'valley of the shadow of death'?

Instead, a friend describes it as waves in a turbulent ocean. With each wave, we are delivered a different emotion just as unique as the wave itself. I believe that too is an accurate assessment.

The relationships that we had with Bill (Dad) are each as individual as our own DNA due to birth order, gender, age and the stage he was in his life. Therefore, how could you subscribe to a notion that the stages of grief for each of us would follow any specific pattern?

Last week, I began searching for books to pass along to help us through this process. What surfaced was book upon book with recommendations and advise on navigating those 'perceived' stages. Much attention is given to "Fatherless Daughters" and "Fatherless Sons" and even more on "Grieving a Long-Term Illness" and "Grieving Sudden Death". You can check all the boxes as all apply.

Even though we can accept that our Mother was our first love and that bonds with our Fathers are unique, our loss will be even more unique that that. Bill was any and everything he needed to be. And not only a father to our own children, but a father-figure to many - and at times even to me, the wife.

Since my own father-figure was such a moving target, the manner in which Bill 'fathered' his children contributed to the unrelenting admiration and love I have for him. Obviously then, my own early loss dictated and influenced my future.

Then someone recently asked, "What will Rhonda do now?"

Obviously, Bill made such an impact in life, that his survivors were/are in some ways defined by that (to others). That without him, we must now find our own identity. Then, after a conversation with Little Miss at 3:00 am this morning, I find myself in overdrive today to separate our purpose in his life (involvement in the businesses, life, care giving) and the influence and imprint he left.

For most of this immediate brood of 8, he was the center of our universe. Some how, and without recognizing it, he uniquely and lovingly demanded it. But, I also know without doubt, Bill Brantley would never want the things that happened to him or the decisions he made to ultimately influence our lives to a degree that it defines us.

This is what I do not wish for our youngest...

"Hi, I am (NAME). I am a (OCCUPATION). I live in (CITY, STATE). I am (MARRIED/DIVORCED). I have (NUMBER OF CHILDREN). And, I lost my father when I was 19."

"But, I really lost him at 14 years of age when he was diagnosed and I began the grieving process. Then, we lost most everything to care for him. My life changed on a dime. Everything I knew was gone and something else kept leaving every day. I experienced loss everyday for many years. Now I feel lost."

This cannot define her.

Even though I recognize that each of us had a unique relationship with him and will obviously have very special feelings and memories, I separate Little Miss from the pact only because of her circumstances (age, timing, life experience, an older Dad, more end of life time with him).

That he may never see Little Miss graduate from college, or walk her down the isle does not mean that he did not influence it. That he will not be physically present for the birth of more grandchildren or great-grandchildren or personal accomplishments is a great loss for us, as the joy he possessed and showered us with was a gift; the affirmation of his love, his encouragement, an unbridled acceptance of our misgivings, the total package.

Personally, I believe that instead of dwelling on the notion that 'he will miss it', I will encourage us to preserve the memories by sharing the feelings we had with him during those milestones. I cannot even pretend to know what this looks like or at this point in time how foolish this may sound in a week/month/year.

But, if you're wondering what "Rhonda will do?" Now that reality is setting in, I'll most likely:

1) Think it and dissect it to a fault, then
2) Embrace it and navigate all the advise and commentary.

It's what comes next that's full of uncertainty. That I may be able to understand and cope better this week, that the oldest siblings may be able to get through this with better skill-sets, that levels of guilt or remorse may influence us differently or that this sudden absence will affect us for the rest of our lives are questions we cannot answer today.

So, how do we navigate these turbulent waters after walking through the valley of the shadow of death?

Perhaps we will stumble upon the right tools (therapy, books and manuals, mediation, church family). However, it is my belief that as long as we are willing to stand on the edge of the surf with Bill's influence in our hearts, the life raft we throw each other will be what defines us.

It will most definitely define me.

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