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Exactly a month after dad died, I found myself in North Carolina again. I missed my family, my dad’s house needed to be cleaned, my dad’s cremains were ready, and I just needed to get away from DC.
My dad’s cremains were split into two nondescript boxes. I kept both boxes on my lap in the car and I could not stop thinking about how a big tall man had been reduced to two boxes of ashes. Ashes to ashes. It struck me as odd, how as a child I used to sit on my father’s lap and now the roles were reversed with him sitting on my lap.
We did a lot at my father’s house. Food donated to a food bank. Junk discarded including a huge tub of individually wrapped plastic cutlery and a million copies of a single document denouncing Mormonism in favor of Christianity. Three bedrooms without furniture, but closets full of clothes and shoes, most still with tags attached, inventoried. A box of glasses, twelve pairs with tags still attached, donated to the local Lions’ club. And the fluid-stained and soiled clothes dad died in were finally removed from the washing machine after a month and a day.
I brought two huge tubs of pictures and stuff back with us to DC, a proverbial slice of deaf history… Deaf peddler cards. Dad’s Gallaudet College ID. The hospital bill for my birth (a mere 3k!). My mother’s outstanding handicapped employee award. Yearbooks from 1920’s- 1960’s. And so many more items that only hold special meaning to me, such as my father’s three dusty yellowed notebooks full of definitions for words in an alphabetic order and an used tube of lime-flavored carmex.
A portion of the living room has been transformed into an impromptu shrine to my family with so many different pictures split up into several boxes. I have been trying to organize the pictures with several things in mind… copies for my brother, my cousins, and my aunt. It’s hard to go through the pictures, more so when I’m looking at pictures of baby Carrie and baby Matt, because I know what’s going to happen to them in 5, 10, and 25 years.
Instead of obeying my instinct of obsessively going through the pictures for the 6749th time, I’ve been on a decluttering kick. I counted all of our books and decided that 1,302 books were too many so we got rid of approximately 300. I got rid of a bag of clothes, the tip of a cotton iceberg. My packrat stash of boxes were unearthed and many things were thrown away. The things I had saved, they didn’t have any significant value except for a faint heartbeat of a memory. I do not want my survivors to dig through the debris of my life in search of clues and signs, nor do I want my insignificant mementos to become sacred objects serving as the link between the dead and living.
I think I’m also obsessed with decluttering, because it’s the easiest way to create order out of something that feels so chaotic. But in spite of what I’ve done with the apartment,
I’m still at a loss about the emotional mess I’ve got on my hands. It’s a mess that cannot be rearranged or put into tidy little boxes. I cannot go through my memories, feelings, and questions and get rid of the unpleasant and undesirable bits. I’m stuck with it all, my personal albatross.
Since I’ve returned from the first trip to North Carolina, I’ve developed an aversion of people. I cannot bear to be around people. It makes me think of Hester Prynne and her scarlet letter, only it feels like I’ve got a blue G on my chest. I cannot make eye contact with cashiers at stores let alone people I know. I dread seeing friends. Since April, I can only think of three separate instance in which I decided to initiate social contact with friends.
It feels like the blue G on my chest is painfully obvious and it scares people away and/or makes them uncomfortable… I can understand why, because we have never been taught to respond to other people’s grief other than the cliché “let me know if there’s anything I can do for you”. Death and grief are two of the many things that are supposed to remain secret instead of being acknowledged as an inevitable rite of passage.
Yesterday, we hosted a BBQ for memorial’s day. I was apprehensive about the idea of playing hostess, more so when I already have a hard time interacting with people other than Thad or Pea. I wanted it to be a small gathering, but the number of people just kept growing. The feeling of being a snail without her shell just didn’t go away, instead, it got worse and worse to the point where I got tired of pretending to be ok. And I just retreated to the safety of my bedroom while wondering what had happened to the Carrie I used to be.
All I want to do is talk about my father and my mother. I want to be able to share my confusion, stories, and sadness with someone. It feels so self-indulgent and it really is! It’s like being the ancient mariner, doomed to a lifetime of repeating the same tale to whoever will listen… I feel so selfish, as if the only thing that matters is my grief and confusion. I want to be able to share all of the old family pictures with friends, to show them all of the interesting knickknacks I’ve unearthed. What I want to say and share, it’s all interesting and meaningful… but I also know this feeling isn’t necessarily shared by other people.
It is all so confusing, painful, and alienating. I cannot understand myself, I never did, and I never will.
When I do not understand something, I have the habit of turning to google. You name it, I’ve probably googled it. I think it’s an attempt to connecting with the world at large, a way to confirm that my experiences and questions are shared by other people. So my recent google searches have involved keywords such as “anxiety grief”, “grief estranged father”, “grief no parents left”, and “grief after childhood abuse”. I also have looked for online support groups dedicated to grief… and nothing fits what I’m feeling.
Nobody shares my story and I need to connect with someone who knows… It’s not a tidy package of grief but a mountain of grief that has been frozen and hidden for 16 years topped with a fresh layer of grief… a double whammy of grief. All the messy ugly emotions such as guilt, shame, and anger. I cannot get over my guilt, I cannot stop feeling like a traitor…
I just wish I didn’t feel so alienated or alone, but my grief feels selfish. I’m more than convinced that my brand of grief is foreign to everyone else and I know that’s a narcissistic view of grief and it’s just special snowflake syndrome, but it’s not changing. You cannot pump logic into something that runs on irrationality.
The only person capable of understanding my grief is my brother and he’s even better than me at maintaining the façade of being an emotionally detached island of humanity. Crying my eyes out to him doesn’t feel possible, it’s like I’m supposed to keep things together, the one who makes the primary decisions before consulting my brother… And our memories are so different. I have repressed almost all of the memories of abuse, the same cannot be said for my brother.
What the fuck am I supposed to do?