Column by Linda R. Jones
Counselors, psychiatrists, psychologists, and members of the clergy tend to agree it takes a year to “recover” from the death of a parent and you will go through five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I don’t think you recover because the pain will still be there, but it’s supposed to be a dull pain. This is the first time in my life I’m looking forward to something being dull.
I haven’t reached acceptance yet, but I didn’t think I was going to bargain. That seemed absurd and illogical to me. On August 15th I wrote in my journal that I was feeling numb and depressed and wondered how long this was going to go on. It had been about five and half months since my father died. Numbness, as it was explained to me, is your brain shutting off the pain because it’s just too much sometimes. For me, numbness is a temporary reprieve only to be followed by a wave of pain that will bring me to my knees. That’s what happened that day and that’s when I bargained.
The least expected memory can trigger this wave of pain. I have pictures of my father on top of my piano in my parlor (We’re not all that. We bought in a buyer’s market and the piano was twenty-five dollars but it works). I also have a picture of his bird and a small Lufthansa spoon next to the pictures. My father ate Jell-O only with that little spoon. It was his joke, “No more Lufthansa spoon, no more Jell-O.” After I wrote in my journal, I went through my father’s memory box. I was still numb. I looked at his watch, his glasses, his driver’s license, and his address book. I went through his address book and realized he had so many friends. I changed the electric air freshener because it was low.
Then, I looked at my father’s pictures and the little spoon, again, and said out loud, “I have Jell-O.” I did. My numbness ended and was replaced with me falling to the floor crying, sobbing, and saying over and over, “Pop, I have Jell-O. Please come back, Pop. Don’t leave me, Papi. Please don’t go, Papi. I have Jell-O. I have Jell-O.” I was that two year-old little girl again, screaming, crying, and sobbing inconsolably for my father. In those minutes on the parlor floor, I was entertaining buying countless boxes of Jell-O just so my father would come back. I even sobbed to my father’s pictures, “I have Jell-O in scooped out watermelon and you can make jokes about it as long as you come back. Just please come back.” I was bargaining.
I cried through the afternoon and into the night. I kept thinking about that little spoon and my father eating Jell-O. I couldn’t eat and I couldn’t sleep. The next morning my eyes were swollen from crying. But then, the pain started to subside. I survived it. I embraced that pain, that bargaining, and rode through it. I have had quite a few of these episodes prior but with each one, the pain lessened. It really does just take time.
On my journey to acceptance, I don’t expect to bargain anymore. I can go into my parlor, write in my journal, and look at my father’s pictures and that little spoon and smile. I still get an occasional tear when I look at that little spoon, but that’s fine because it doesn’t hurt as much. Time. More time.
My journey continues and so do memories of my father. Join me. We can eat Jell-O together and look forward to times when our pain will be dull. Maybe we can all help one another along the way.
(Henry Alfred Rudolph. Born April 2, 1930. Died March 2, 2015.)