My Five Stages Of Grief

Denial

        I’ve dealt with death before, but never to this magnitude. I’ve lost grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends, but nothing on Earth prepared me for this. You hear about the five stages of grief and in the past almost month I’ve felt every last one of them. They’ll come in waves. Sometimes they’ll hit me all at once. Sometimes they come out of nowhere. Sometimes there’s an absence of feeling altogether. When I first found out my dad had died I was at work. I had just left home not even 4 hours before that. He walked me to the door, hugged me, and watched as I pulled away. How can someone go from being here one minute then gone the next? I feel like I’m processing it like a child who’s learning about death for the first time and still refers to it as a long sleep. Of course death only takes a second, but at the same time how can I hug this man and tell him “See you later” and not even four hours later he’s no longer of this world? I do not understand.
        When my mother called me she had only told me she had trouble getting into the house, because the screen door was locked, and she couldn’t see my father moving. I had two reactions as I rushed out of work early. One was traumatizing while the other hanging onto optimism 1. I was shaking because I knew that this was it. This was going to be the day that my dad dies. 2. This wouldn’t have been the first time for my mother to come home, banging on the door trying to get in and my father being so into his music that he hadn’t noticed she’d arrived. I held onto the latter the entire drive home. My job is barely 12 minutes from my house, but that was the longest 12 minutes of my life. Once I pulled up and stepped out of the car my mother said the words “He’s gone.” I stood in disbelief for only second before wailing into my uncle’s arms. Again, I ask, how? He was okay when I left. How? I was in such a fog that when I entered the house to talk with police I didn’t realize that his corpse was still on the living room couch. I only thought there was a sheet there that was left from when they took his body away. When my mom told me that he was still there I toyed with the idea of pulling the sheet back. That was the only way it could be real. I walked through the living room, towards the dining room, slowly. After seeing a glimpse of his pant leg I knew he was there, but I couldn’t bring myself to pull away the sheet. For hours thereafter, and days, and weeks it still didn’t/doesn’t feel real. My father spent many a night in the hospital due to his COPD and other illnesses. It just felt/feels like he’s in a long hospital stay. I often think back to if I had seen his lifeless body if it would feel real or offer some beginning to closure. It takes a long time for the mind to process the fact that a person that’s been in your life for almost 34 years is no longer apart of it.
        The following day after he’d passed my mom and I drove to McDonald’s. Anytime we’d go there my mom would always get my dad a fish filet, even still sometimes she’d call home to see what he wanted. As we drove there I started “Aren’t you going to call and see what… Oh right.” I imagine there will be times that I will forget or wonder where he is only to have reality hit me that he is no longer here.

Anger

         I’ve written before, countless times, of drug abuse*. On the drive home from work that day I remember yelling and screaming to myself in the car. “WHY DIDN’T HE JUST GET FUCKING HELP?! WHY DIDN’T HE TRY TO GET BETTER?! PLEASE GOD JUST GIVE HIM A CHANCE TO GET BETTER!” Because of this I’ve spent the better part of the last few years toggling between anger and nothing. I was never angry with my father as a person, but more so at his choices, and what he had let a substance do to him. Either way I had become so disappointed. I wanted so much better for him, as I know he probably wanted for himself.
        Through this anger, that still arises from time to time, I feel like I don’t have the right to grieve. Although we had a great relationship (I’m a total daddy’s girl) up until a few years ago I, unjustifiably, judge myself on these last few years instead of the entire lifetime. I feel like I was an ass so what right do I have to grieve? I feel guilty. Could I have been nicer? Could I have been more understanding? At the same time, how else would someone react to an addict? I felt for his depression and his declining health which certainly must’ve caused even an more vicious cycle of depression, but I just couldn’t understand it. I still don’t. All I know is I wanted him better and he was stuck in a rut that he would never escape until his soul was freed from his body. Still I was angry and perhaps selfish. I wanted him to be better for me. I want him still here for me. He had to want that. I couldn’t want it for him. Even still I feel like a phony for grieving. For the last few years, until even now, I’ve been angry for various reasons. Angry at the outlet he chose. Angry that he didn’t take better care of himself (despite having COPD and congestive heart failure he still smoked). Angry that he gave up. Angry that he didn’t express his feelings and what he was going through. Angry we didn’t get a last heart to heart. Angry he died two days before father’s day. Angry at society for making people (especially black people) feel as though they should be ashamed to admit they suffer from depression therefore they never seek help. Also angry at society for making people believe that the cure to depression is to turn that frown upside down. Angry that doctors weren’t more forceful with trying to get his health on track. Angry that he’s not here. Angry that my world has stopped and everyone keeps moving and now I’m forced to continue and catch up to a world that kept on spinning. Angry that people keep asking me if I’m okay as if I’m supposed to be. It’s a miracle for me to even get out of bed let alone be okay. So there’s this underlying feeling of anger mixed with guilt topped with hurt. Perhaps it’s not even anger. Maybe I’m just hurt.

Bargaining

        Before he even died I’ve always thought about “what ifs” and “why didn’t I knows?” or “why didn’t I speak up sooner?” So many shoulda, coulda, wouldas. I want there to be a rewind button. I want to go back to a time where everything was fixable. I want to go back with the mindset of the adult that I am now. I want there to be a pause button so that I can truly mourn without having to put on a mask and clock in everyday as if I’m a fully functioning human being. I want to wake up and hear someone go “Ha ha. Just kidding.” and this was all some insane, cruel, morbid joke. But here we are just a day shy of a month and no one has relieved me with that one yet. I’m almost 34 and it seems like our time together was only 34 seconds. It seems like everything has been one big blur and I’d give anything to go back and linger on fond memories and make new ones. I just want to go back and live it all over again. This can’t be the end.

Depression

        I’m prone to depression and in watching my father’s health decline over the past few years, and even more so his spirit, I wonder if it’s genetic. I’ve done my best not to let it take me over completely and I think I’ve done a good job so far. I’ve let depression completely take over before and it’s crippling. I made a promise to myself to never let that happen again. That doesn’t keep the tears from flowing at random times. At work I’ll hear “After The Love Is Gone” by Earth, Wind & Fire (his favorite group), a song I requested be played at his memorial service, and all I can do is clench my jaw to keep from weeping. I know it’s not healthy to keep it in, but that’s all I know. As I walk downstairs from my bedroom I look to the living room, where he always was, and walk by slowly, trying to process that he’s not in there anymore laughing at “American Dad” in the afternoon, or playing songs from back in his day really loud, or fiddling with one of his guitars. The other day I had an eerily realistic dream. I dreamt that my parents and I were getting ready for bed and before my dad walked down the hallway to their bedroom I grabbed him and hugged him. I could feel him shaking from crying and the only thing he said was “You be good and I love you forever.” It felt as though I was really hugging him. It breaks my heart to even think about it.
         As much as I want him here his quality of life was very poor. I can’t imagine being someone who needs an oxygen tank and constantly has shortness of breath so going far from home is pretty much a no go. Who would want to deal with that? I know that depressed him. I know he wanted to be able to drive and go outside and do things. I hate when people say that the person is in a better place, but this is true. He no longer has to worry about if he’ll be able to breathe. No more machines. No more medications. He is free. Truly free. That being said it still hurts like hell. I can’t get to a point to where it stifles me, but some days it’s damn hard. All I want to do is sleep. I’m exhausted all the time. The tears are a constant and now the pain manifests physically which is something unavoidable that I was trying to avoid.

Acceptance

        He is gone. I know this. This will be a struggle to completely 100% come to terms with. I know that over time it will get easier, but there is this hole in my heart that can never be filled. I lost an important piece to my puzzle. As time goes on I can only remember all of the good times and reflect on the bad as learning lessons. Life, in fact, does go on and I can’t let it keep going without me. I said in my poem that my dad encouraged me in every major step in my life, and he did. When I went to DC in 8th grade I had second thoughts because I didn’t want them to worry about finances, but he wanted me to go and told me not to worry. The same went for Australia and also picking up my life to try and take on Chicago. When I found out I got accepted to Columbia College Chicago he was the only person I truly told because I knew he’d be happy for me and push for me to pursue it. He always had my back. Therefore, I know he would want me to keep going and doing big things and doing what make me happy. I know he’ll be there to give me a push. I’ll never be okay with his death, but I will eventually come to terms with his passing. I wish he could’ve stayed a little bit longer, but I had no say in that. I know that he is with me where he will be always.
        Dragonflies always remind me of him from the days went went fishing together. More than anything from those trips I remember the dragonflies.The day after he died there were two of them hovering over my car and I’ve seen that same blue one quite a few times since. I’ve never seen them away from water. I know it was him. He’s watching me. I hope to make him proud. I hope to just keep going. He is my guardian angel and I know he’ll steer me right. <3

-Asia Aneka Anderson, My Five Stages of Grief, 2016©

*He didn’t overdose btw. Just thought I’d make that clear.

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