Grief is such a funny thing. Sunday, the 19th, was the seventh anniversary of my father’s death; now he’s been gone over a third of my life. No matter how far along I am in the grief process, or no matter how “over it” I am, this is always a bad time of year.
In many ways, it has been worse in the past couple of years than it had been for the previous five. While still at home, him not being there was hard, don’t get me wrong; however, now that I am “grown up” and away from the nest, the void seems deeper.
During my discernment process, there has exist the struggle of how do I know what to sacrifice? Is this really what I feel called to or has difficulty in one aspect or another driven me this direction? While I have discussed at some length these things with my mother, as well as friends, there is a noted lack of advice of the fatherly kind.
My father entered into the Air Force when he was 17 years old, he married my mom within a week of his 19th birthday. He had a child, my brother, within a year later. He spent almost 22 years in the Air Force, retiring as a Master Sergeant. He spent a few months outside of the military, then was hired onto for Civil Service with the DoD as an instructor. He spent 15 years doing that, working until two days before his death.
As a child, I had never put any thought into what type of discernment he went through. Did he join the military to get away from the farm? Was he actually interested in it? Did it fulfill him or did it try to seek that elsewhere? I assume, rightly or wrongly, the priesthood was never a major consideration. With a family as large as his (oldest of 10 surviving children) and none of them going to the seminary or a convent, I have the feeling that religious vocations weren’t fostered. I could be wrong but I simply don’t think my dad thought about it. Anyhow, how did he know my mom was the right girl? Was there doubt at the time? How much?
He stayed in the military for 21 years, including a tour of duty in Vietnam. Did he stay in because it was security for the family? Did he stay in because he didn’t want to leave? He left, from what mom passes down, because if he stayed, he was due for promotion and everyone being promoted to that rank in that field was being sent to Korea for a year. At almost 40 years of age, he did not want to be away from his family for a year again.
Before last year, I had not truly started asking these questions of myself and so I never thought to ask them of him. Now that I am starting to work on the “questions of life”, I want that insight. It was almost like losing him again, at least realizing there was more that was lost.
The pain that is felt every year in September is a little different each time. Last year, it was anger. It was being pissed off that he wasn’t around anymore. It was about why did he die, why am I without a father, why does everyone else have their fathers to talk to, to joke with, to look up to. That is still there this year, no longer to nearly the same degree.
This year, it is more about the void. Even if he would give me the worst advice in the world, so bad that I could see right through it, it would be something. It reminds me, oddly enough, of my Educational Constitutional Law class from freshman year. The Civil Rights battle for equal access to education started on the collegiate level in a state with public white-only institutions and no black institutions. Why? Because white students had something, black students had nothing. It is much easier to see a problem there than trying to figure out, like in the case of Brown v. Board, white students had a better school, black students had lesser schools. In either case, the point is there is nothing where something should be. Quality of that something, of that advice, is secondary to the fact that nothing exists now.
It was suggested to me by one of the Dean of Natural Sciences advisors to go to a support group with other people who have lost loved one. I went a few times but it wasn’t what I feel like I needed then or now. I think perhaps this is something that I need to get through, with my friends and loved ones silently supporting me as they have. There is nothing that anyone on Earth could do to fill the void that is left; it is now up to me letting the Holy Spirit fill that void with God’s love.
Grief is a funny thing. For each person, it manifests itself in different ways at different times. There are similar connections, of course, but there is always a bit of unpredictability about it. With all of that though, the bright side is we get better. This is one wound that time does heal.