On Grief and Anxiety

March 6th, 2018 dawned crisp and clear. Beautiful weather is rare in south Texas, but the sun was shining and the temperature dipped below triple digits, which is obviously a power combination when you’re working with 99% humidity and misery almost all year. The morning was made even better by a surprise delivery at work. My Dad, in his worn-out cap and blue jeans, came bearing a breakfast taco. This was a regular stop for him, and at 9 months pregnant, I was NOT complaining. Since he was in a hurry, I ran outside to see him leaning against the wall with a brown paper bag. A quick hug and ‘I love you’ and he was on his way.

I never saw him alive again.

The following day, I had another surprise visit at work. This time, my Mom, in tears. Hotel staff found my Dad unresponsive that morning. He had passed away of a massive heart attack in his sleep.

The following weeks were a painful blur. Funeral plans. Comforting loved ones. Sorting and organizing details of 63 years of his life. Trying not to fall apart.

I continued working. Due in a few short weeks, I had no leave time available to me that wasn’t already earmarked for maternity leave. I was a whole hot mess, sitting at my desk and wishing I could rewind to that breakfast taco delivery. Avoiding the bench I collapsed onto when I learned my Dad was gone forever. Moving in autopilot. Everything was the same, except nothing was the same.

I gave birth to my sweet girl just two weeks later; 6 short days before his birthday. Giving birth in the midst of grief and sorrow was an experience I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Joy, mingled with heartache, and a whole heap of pregnancy and postpartum hormones – a potent mixture that set off a spiral of PPA/PPD that I was woefully unprepared to combat.

Y’all. It. Was. ROUGH. Before my Dad died, I thought I was well acquainted with grief. I’ve lived it. Betrayal. Miscarriage. Infertility. Spousal substance abuse. Divorce. Nothing rocked me like losing the person in my life who was always a safe place.

I’m still learning how to live fully and exuberantly after trauma. Anxiety, once a clinical term I studied in school and never completely grasped, is now a reality. Coping mechanisms have become a part of my routine; schedules, structure, and predictability are new for me, but they keep me focused. That fly-by-the-seat-of-her-pants, here-for-a-good-time person I was now revels in spreadsheets and sanitizers, organization systems and day planners.

That’s the thing about anxiety; it convinces you that nothing bad can happen if you control all the variables. I’ve come a long way in this battle to reclaim my normal, but it’s a day-by-day exercise in strength.

I wrote this when he passed away:

Yesterday, my daddy went to be with Jesus. His health failed and his heart was tired, and he left this earth in a peaceful sleep. I know that if Jesus has given him the choice, he would have suffered here longer just to be with us. His whole world revolved around our family, and we never doubted his love and pride for us, even when he was being a crazy old toot.

We are so blessed to have had him for the time that we were given, but we are desperately hurting for all the time that he will miss. His first granddaughter (he told us that he was going to retire once she could say ‘PawPaw’ because he’d have to hold her and love on her all day). The love of his life receiving the master’s degree he was SO proud of her for working towards. Basketball games and bike rides and band concerts with the grandsons that he poured his heart into nurturing. Family Sundays that won’t be the same without Daddy insisting on jalapeños. (Every. Single. Time.) But most of all the moments that we created every day – the ‘I love you’s and the ‘sweetheart, have you eaten?’s and the farkle games and teasing and corny Dad jokes and laughter and love.

He leaves a hole in our hearts and in our circle that can’t be repaired. I love you, Daddy, with my whole heart, and I will never stop missing your presence. Fly high with the angels and keep cheering us on until we meet again!

To say that the last two years have been a struggle would be an understatement. A learning experience. A period of painful growth. A time of lessons I never wanted to learn. The grief is sometimes as sharp and stabbing as the moment I found out my Dad had left this earth, but mostly, it’s a dull and constant ache. Sweet moments with the kids are tinged with the bitter realization that he’s missing out on these experiences.

And we’re missing out on him.

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