The Importance of Ritual

When my Pop (my birthfather, whom I have over the years grown to know and love) passed on Feb 3rd I was so overwhelmed with the beginning of the semester and the responsibilities of adding two new (to me) additional courses to my already full schedule, that I don’t think it really sank in. I knew it was coming, expected it, was in a way relieved by it. I even went into the U that morning and taught two of my three classes, only canceling the third when my colleagues repeatedly asked, “Why are you here?” I was there because I, knowing and expecting that my Dad would pass any day, had decided to continue on, “business as usual.”

After all, I reasoned, I had said my goodbyes just days before he passed, and my stepmother and I had agreed that we’d do a memorial service during my U’s spring recess, when I could plan on being there to help her for an entire week, as opposed to a quick in-and-out for a funeral (they are in Florida, I live in California). That seemed a good plan until this evening. I have decided that there’s something to be said for the ritual of funerals, especially immediate (or shortly thereafter the event) ones.

I am here in San Francisco for a conference, the “Conference on College Composition and Communication,” or 4-C as I’ve discovered it is called. Just as I checked into my adorable little room at the King George, I received an email letting me know that a good friend and colleague’s father had, as mine had, passed away following a long illness.

I didn’t realize until tonight, when I basically fell apart in my hotel room after getting the email, that I hadn’t yet had the opportunity to grieve for my own loss. I had cried briefly at 2:30am on that February morning when I awoke from a sound sleep and knew instantly that he’d passed. I cried a few tears again with my stepmother on the phone two hours later when she called to give me the news.

But it wasn’t until tonight, triggered by the passing of my friend’s father, that I began to grieve. I have written his eulogy, I have prepared the program for his service, and now…now I am beginning to grieve for the man who was instrumental in giving me live but whom I didn’t know well enough.

I guess I never understood before the importance of that formalized structure to the whole process. With less than a month to go before the memorial service for my Pop, and scarcely a month after his passing, I am left in this limbo of loss.

I really hate limbo.

So…let me end with this. For those who are caregivers to someone in their final stage of life, when that time comes, remember that despite knowing intellectually that your loved one is in a better place, that you expected their passing, the importance of being supportive for your family, and the belief that you are emotionally prepared for final event, don’t forget to give yourself a chance, and the space, to grieve.

Tonight: more tears and little sleep