Grief comes spewing out when you least expect it. A word here. A taste there. A smell. A song. A question. Insignificant, random moments that are suddenly thrust on you and tears flow and your heart is pierced and all the loss comes falling out in a heap in the middle of God knows where. It’s not arrangeable or scheduled. It can’t be forced. It just happens.
I was at the doctor for the annual physical. She quizzed me about my habits and asked how my sleep has been under the new medication recently prescribed. She noted that I was due for the second administration of the pneumonia vaccine. She listened to my heart and checked my blood pressure and oxygenation levels. She was pleased with the numbers. So was I.
“Are your parents living?”
For some reason the question hit me like a ton of bricks. I paused. I tried to answer but no words came. Suddenly I was lost in memories. Dad slouched in the armchair, his long skinny arm wrapped around me, holding me close. Mom seated on the piano bench, her fingers flying over the keys, her beautiful voice singing the sweet, simple songs about cowboys and old dogs and Jesus There was this deep aching stab in my heart. The tears welled up.
I had paused too long. Dr. Iveson looked up from the screen and concern filled her voice, “Are you okay?” I wasn’t, but I managed to choke out that I was. “They’re both gone.” I sobbed. It was a strange, awkward moment. I felt embarrassed.
Her voice was gentle then. “I’m sorry for your loss. Do you know what they died from?”
“Dad died from emphysema. He was in his early forties. Mom died a couple of years ago. Her death certificate read that she died from dementia. I didn’t know you could die from that.”
“If you want,” the doctor smiled softly, “we could talk about this some other time.”
“Now’s fine. I just suddenly miss them.” I teared up again. “This is stupid. I’m sorry. I’m not sure why I can’t get it together.”
“It’s okay. Grief sneaks up on us. Do you have people you can talk to about your loss?”
I do, of course. I’m not sure it always helps, but I can’t imagine what it would be like to have no one to talk with about the pain. There is something profoundly agonizing about grief’s intrusion into the mundane. The way it catches you unawares. A sixty six year old man is suddenly confronted with the reality that in this age of decay, death and dying aren’t just concepts, but deeply personal and visceral actualities. Ray and Bernice are dead. Dad and Mom are no longer available. There is a strange aloneness in that. It shouldn’t be startling, but it is. Such are the ways of grief.
The exam over I headed to the Jeep. I started the engine and the tears came flooding down again. Sobbing, I just sat and let the pain wash over me. It was good to let it pour out. It was deeply cathartic to just weep.
A horn honked. It jerked me back from wherever I had gone. Someone wanted my space. I waved my apologies and quickly backed out and headed down the road to the next appointment.
Life goes on…