Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Nov. 20, 2003

"A Time to Mourn, A Time to Dance"

Dad died a year ago this week, and I find myself reliving the last few days of his life. Strange as it sounds, it's both painful and comforting - painful for obvious reasons, comforting because I know it's a normal part of the grieving process.

Homecare and Hospice understands. Earlier this month, Mom and I attended an "afternoon of remembrance and hope," a service to pay tribute to our loved ones with music and a candlelight service. Candles were lit for each of the people who died while under hospice care in the past year.

My mind replays the events leading up to Dad's death and the service after, sometimes finding parallels with what's happening now in our lives.

A year ago last Friday, Dad fell and couldn't get up. That weekend was spent getting him comfortable in a bed with rails to keep him from falling out. We also called in hospice volunteers to help Mom take care of him.

Mariya was in a school play that weekend, just as she was again this year.

Dad died around noon on that Monday at home - with Mom nearby and his cat curled up at his feet. My sister was on her way home from Bolivia. She left La Paz at 6 a.m. and arrived here around midnight, about 12 hours after Dad died. The day after, our friends' son Christopher was born and Cecilia, the daughter of a college friend, arrived from Bolivia to spend a few months with us. We'll help celebrate Christopher's first birthday this coming weekend, and we look forward to seeing Cecilia at Christmas.

Katie celebrated her 10th birthday without her Grandpa. She tells me now that she kept thinking, "if only Grandpa can make it through my birthday." She'll turn 11 next week.

Dad's funeral was the day before Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving Day was a blur - a mixture of sadness and yet thankfulness that Dad's suffering was over.

I still think of Dad every day. Sometimes it's a wistful feeling. "Why didn't I ask him about this," I ask, when I'm going through family history items.

But even with the pain, there are unexpected gifts we receive even after our loved one is gone.

"I'm so glad I had his gentle presence in my life," I think, when I look through albums and see photos with Dad.

Each of us deals with the death of a loved one differently. Katie lost her friend Logan this past year. She recently decided that the weeping willow is her favorite tree - just as it was Logan's favorite. Our high school principal lost his oldest son this past year. He sometimes wears a button with Jeremy's picture.

According to hospice pamphlets and other information about grief, most people follow a "timetable" as they learn to live without the person they loved and lost. Reactions vary widely from one individual to another and also vary depending on the relationship to the one who died.

The first year is marked by numbness, anger, sadness and denial - not necessarily in that order and usually with some repetition of the different stages. At some point, acceptance that the loved one is gone is finally reached. But it's not an easy process and it's unlikely to be over in a year. "Grief takes as long as it takes," is the way "A Time to Mourn, A Time to Dance: Help for the Losses in Life," a publication of the Aid Association for Lutherans, describes it.

Our ancestors wore black for the first year after their loved ones died. Although we don't do that now, their outward sign of grief might have made it easier to mark the process.

In our microwave-meal and instant-messaging society, we want things to happen NOW. It's hard to realize that grief takes its own time. I'm sure it wasn't over for our ancestors either when they put away their black clothing on Day 366. But it does get easier with time.

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