Monday, September 16, 2002

Working through the Grief
(March 22, 2002)

Last night, I was working on my newspaper column, and ended up just kind of working through some of my grief in it. I know so many of you have been praying for my family, so I wanted to share it with you all. Thanks again for everything!

--For the longest time, I debated on what to write my column about. Granted, that’s a
problem I usually have, but this time it was worse. Because, there was really only one
thing on my mind, but for the life of me, I didn’t want to write about it. For the past two
weeks, one emotion has consumed my thoughts. Grief.

I always thought I knew what the word meant until I really, truly experienced it. And
slowly, my perceptions of grief are taking on whole new facets that I never knew existed.
On March 5th, my stepfather, Dennis passed away. His death was a shock, and I was out
of the country when it happened. When I finally arrived home on March 7th, I was
mentally, physically, and spiritually exhausted. The family night, funeral, and following
days are all a haze. Days blurred into night, and a steady stream of visitors and phone
calls kept us busy.

So, for a while, I didn’t allow myself to think, to succumb to the blanket of grief that
surrounded me. I didn’t let myself experience the emotions that had gathered just below
the surface. When my mind started to wander to thoughts of death, I just distracted
myself.

But a few days ago, I finally gave in. As I sat by myself one evening, I wrapped myself in
my grief and let my heart explore the emotions that I had tried so desperately to keep at
bay.

I was angry. I didn’t understand why he had to die so soon. Why we didn’t have any
kind of warning. Why I wasn’t even there.

I was scared. What was going to happen to our family? How were we going to make it
without him?

I was sad. Sad that my stepdad won’t be at my graduation. That he won’t be able to see
his new grandson grow up. That he won’t be there to take my brother fishing this
summer. That I won’t be able to give him a hug next time I go home.

But most of all, I just missed him. Dennis was my stepfather for 19 years. He never
treated me any differently than his own children. He always introduced me as his
daughter. He loved me completely.

Just a few days before Dennis’ death, I came to a realization about him. What Dennis
taught me the most was about love. Dennis loved me even when he didn’t have to. He
loved me when we fought about father/daughter things. He loved me when he could have
just tolerated me. He loved me when I was unlovable. He loved me in spite of me.
I’m thankful for the years that Dennis was my stepfather--no, my father. I wish those
years could have been longer, but they can’t be.

For Dennis’ funeral, my mother asked me to write a poem to be read. It only took me a
few moments to pour out on paper these words. For those of you who had the privilege
of meeting Dennis, I hope they capture his spirit.

For Dennis-
It’s so hard to believe that you’re gone.
That I will never feel you whiskers against my cheek,
Or hear your laugh so full of joy.
I will forever miss the twinkle in your eyes
And the touch of your work-callused hands.

But I know the lessons you’ve taught me will live on.
You showed me how to love someone,
Not because you had to,
But because your heart was so big,
You wanted to.

You taught me to love without abandon.
How to overlook flaws
Forget the past, and simply love.
Just like you did.

I still feel like you’re here.
I expect you to walk in the front door,
Full of smiles and laughter,
And tell me that you love me.

I don’t pretend to understand it all.
But I do know that you’re in a better place,
And that I will someday see you again
And feel your whiskers against my cheek.

But even now, today, you continue to teach us.
You’re still teaching us about faith,
About the tender touch of a Father,
But most of all, about love.

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