A Grieving Period

Deborah Gray Health Guide
  • My biological father died at the end of September from Lou Gehrig's disease. If you read my earlier post about his death, you'll know that our relationship was complex, to say the least. I wasn't sure how I would react when he passed away. He was not a big part of my life in the way that my stepfather always has been. I did wonder if the grief would resemble depression at all, since the prevailing wisdom says that it can.

    I didn't cry a lot. Just a few minutes when I first heard about his death. I kept waiting for a big bout of tears to come, but it didn't. So I thought, "Okay, I guess that's it." This may sound strange, or perhaps like I was blocking things. In part that was probably true initially, since he died when my husband was out of town, and I didn't want to fall apart when I was the only one taking care of my son.
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    But I also attributed my reaction, or lack thereof, to the situation. I essentially had a three and a half year long grieving process, with several milestones along the way. When I first heard his diagnosis, I was numb for the whole day. Then, each time I saw him and he had lost another facility, like walking or speech, I mourned again. I'd speak very little for the first hour after I left the houseboat where he lived with my stepmother and brother, and I would feel numb and grim.

    So I figured that maybe I had already grieved. But of course I was wrong. First came the anxiety attacks. During the week leading up to my father's funeral, I had anxiety attacks in which my heart would race and I felt like I couldn't breathe. It wasn't a lot of fun, but I figured it would be over after the funeral.

    That experience was a little unsettling. My father's funeral hewed fairly strictly to Jewish tradition, which directs that the body should become part of the earth as soon as possible. Wooden caskets or shrouds are permitted, and the face cannot be viewed after death. In this case, my father was wrapped in a shroud. If you've only been at funerals in which caskets were utilized, open or closed, trust me, a shroud is somewhat more disturbing. But it was a beautiful ceremony, up on a mountain in Mill Valley, with hawks gliding in the air just slightly above us.

    The two or three weeks following his death, I was, if not exactly depressed, somewhat grim and undeniably irritable. Normally I joke around with a lot of the students I see every day at my job at the university and I'm fairly patient with their frequent lack of organization, indecisiveness and occasional lack of consideration. That definitely was not the case during this period. Not only did I often wonder why I so rarely heard "please" or "thank you" from them, I actually told one student that he'd better not come in just a couple of minutes before closing again.

    I also lost interest to some extent in things that normally occupy my attention, like working on my website, knitting and doing things with my son. I had trouble getting things done around the house and had some trouble focusing on work. I definitely didn't smile or laugh as much as usual. So in some ways it was definitely like my usual depression, just with a lot more irritability.

  • Just when I thought I might need to talk to my doctor about adjusting my medication, the "depression" started to lift. I realized that I was enjoying my work again and interacting with the students. Smiling and laughing became easy again and I returned to normal all around.
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    I asked my stepmother last week how she and my brother were doing without my father, and she said, "It's an adjustment." That, I think, sums the whole period up pretty well for me. Our minds received a blow. It wasn't unexpected, but it was a blow. We spent a little time absorbing it, and now we're adjusting.
Published On: November 12, 2007