This time, on November 25th, at 5:00am, I was sitting on our handmade leather couch when I heard the thumps of 2 men carrying a gurney down our rickety wooden stairs. “Don’t look, just stay there” our dear family friend Heather says to us. I sit there, with a tear rolling down my face, rubbing my mothers back as she weeps.
I don’t think I have ever felt as numb as I did in that moment.
I can close my eyes and vividly recall the moment Holly woke me up to tell me he’s gone– I can vividly recall the lifeless body in the memory foam bed, the open yet sunk eyes, the blue skin, how cold he was. This memory often sends me into panic attacks.
The days that followed have blurred together at this point, filled with food, condolences, and stress of planning a memorial service and cremation.
But perhaps what has really blurred together has been this past year. It oddly feels like his passing was yesterday, and also 7 years ago, all at the same time.
What I can recall most are all the moments where I learned what grief and living after really means.
You see, about a month after my father passed away, I was pulling into my apartment complex late at night, hoping there was an open spot in the lot in front of my apartment, so I didn’t have to walk across the complex in the cold. Snagging a spot past 9PM is impossible, so I held my breath as I pulled into the lot. As I near the end, I see a open spot in between two small cars, hiding away, and waiting for me. Without hesitation, I yell “thanks Mark!” into the universe and pull on in. From that moment forward, I allowed myself to live his truth.
Living a deceased loved ones truth is embodying all they are, while allowing yourself to grieve. It’s in this time I started to allow myself to learn from my grief.
Thus, here are 5 lessons Mark Smith has taught me in my journey with living and grieving long after he was gone.
1.) Most forget. I don’t mean to put that so harshly, but it’s true. After the noise settles down and the first month or two passes, everyone who came out of the woods to send their condolences disappears, and you’re left with your family to grieve.
2.) Grief is forever. They often say it gets easier with time, but the truth is— it doesn’t. You will always long for their voice, their hugs, whatever it may be. You will always see things that remind you of them. You will always have days where it creeps up on you. Grief is not something you move past– it becomes apart of you. Grief is just apart of your story now, and you move forward with it.
3.) Honestly, you become a little more quirky. You develop things that are only relative to your deceased loved one and your grief. For example, we always have to point out a red cardinal, or every time I find a parking spot by my apartment late at night, I have to shout “thanks Mark!”. I now only get blue slushies (sorry cherry flavor), and I check my social media memories everyday like clockwork hoping memories of him pop up.
4.) You often battle with yourself. You feel silly or insane for getting overwhelmed at the grocery store, for crying on holidays, for needing to breathe more than you did before the passing. But the truth is, by putting all our energy into pretending we are unaffected by the worst, we block ourselves from the best. As traumatic and heart wrenching as grief is, if we don’t allow ourselves to feel it, we will never grow from it.
5.) You learn to surround yourself with those who fulfill you, as your tolerance grows smaller. More than anything, this past year has taught me what it really means to not sweat the small stuff, and to be in relationships are filled with love and nothing more. My inner circle is filled with people who will sit for hours and let me tell stories about my father, who go to a 7-11 to get blue slushies, and who do a toast to my father at our friends-giving. Of course, this took some weeding out, as I learned that I needed those who could support me, and unfortunately, not everyone can.
I could write a whole novel on what only a year has taught me about grief, but what I have learned most is that grief is lovely, dark, and deep. It’s unique, personal, traumatizing, scary, painful, beautiful, and a whole array of other words.
How we carry on after death is just as unique and confusing. Yet, somehow, they are just as alive as they were before. We carry their life with us, telling stories, listening to their favorite music, posting photos, and thanking them for parking spots. Love does not fade when someone dies, rather it blossoms and fills up more space in the memories we carry, allowing them to live on through us.
In the wise words of Mark himself, “There’s little finality to death for the living. Those passed remain with us, alive in so many ways.”
Thank you Dad, for always saving me a parking spot.