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The Scent of Grief

Some things still catch me off guard. It’s been over two years since my Dad died. But Father’s Day this year snuck up on me and I got the email from daycare at the end of their day. “We will be talking about Dad’s this week!” it said cheerfully.

I shot an email off to the director knowing I was already too late as they had circle time already that day. They were on their way home to me with my ex. “The boys do not have Father figures. Please do not try and force them to find a male figure during this week’s discussions about Father’s Day. My sister has a wife, the boy’s have two mom’s, my dad died in 2019, and there are no extended male family members they have any ongoing relationship with especially in light of COVID. We literally haven’t seen any one for over a year in our extended family who are male. Do not try and find a substitute father figure for them. Just acknowledge they have two Mom’s who love them and Aunt and Auntie, Gramma, and cousin who love them very much.”

That night at bedtime one of them cried and they talked about how they miss Poppy (my Dad) and I asked if they were upset because they talked about Father’s Day at school. They were. I reminded them of all the people who love them. I reminded them that some people do not have Dad’s and that’s okay. Meanwhile I was trying not to be irrationally angry and Mama Bear wild tempered at their preschool teacher for trying to place a male figure into their lives when they do not have one.

They told me they didn’t have to do the Father’s Day craft. I said why don’t they do it for Mommy or Mama? They didn’t want to. I didn’t push it.

I realize this is going to be a yearly event unless Father’s Day happens to fall late enough that they are not in school by that time in June.

Single Mom guilt can be bad. In that moment hugging my sons as they bemoaned their Dadless lives I felt lower than dirt. Not only do they not have a Dad, but they do not even have intact parents. Their two mom’s couldn’t cut it. I realized I was disproportionately angry at preschool (it’s called displacement or projection in mental health) because I was really angry at myself for 1. forgetting about Father’s Day and not having a discussion beforehand with their teacher 2. for being smack dab in the middle of a divorce with their other Mom and 3. for literally having no male family members for them and for missing my own Dad so hard.

Dude. It was a rough week. I had a client who said she had trouble setting limits with her kid because of single mom guilt. I reflected that I am a single mom. I definitely feel guilt. A lot. But I still make the boys clean up their toys, put their clothes in the laundry, and most recently clean all the bathrooms with me because they climbed over the back of the couch for the hundredth time after me telling them not to for the ninety-ninth time. We laughed that Mom and I. She totally understood what I was saying and she felt seen. I validated that single mom guilt is a real thing. Because lord it is.

The Spring is the anniversary of my Dad’s death, Easter, Memorial Day, Father’s Day, and my Mom’s birthday and then the 4th of July all in quick succession. It feels wrong still. All these holidays without my Dad. He was disorganized and often didn’t plan my Mom’s birthday until the last second. But he managed to pull through usually. Not with the same attention to detail when my Mom plans birthday parties, but he got the job done. The last two of her birthdays with him alive were not fun as he was in the throws of Dementia and we all were watching and waiting as he declined.

What I wouldn’t give to give my sons the experience of my Dad. But I can’t. Instead I have to tread carefully around Father’s Day because I am grieving and my sons are questioning why they do not have any one to celebrate. It’s a hard thing. And it’s freaking yearly. Couldn’t be biennial or triennial. Nope yearly. In the past I’ve tried to celebrate their other Mom on Father’s Day and we called it second mother’s Day. But honestly this year we were in the midst of mediation sessions that haven’t all been super amicable and I just wasn’t feeling like I wanted to do anything. Sundays are her days with the boys so they were with her anyway.

My sister invited me over to her house with her family and my Mom and her in-laws who are just lovely and who I actually like very much. But I stayed home. I painted my fence. I thought my Dad would nod in approval to that. I had to stain it this year. It’s a lot of fence and deck. I made some heavy progress that day. I blasted my music and painted up and down the fence and rolled it on the deck. My Dad wanted above all else for us to be happy. I’d say I’m seeking happiness and that I am at least on the other side of unhappiness.

I try and practice gratefulness. I am grateful for my sons, and I hope one day they can be Dad’s to their own children. I am grateful for the time I had with my Dad pre-Dementia. I am grateful for the stroke he had during Dementia because for some bizarre reason that was one of the last truly lucid conversations I had with him was in the emergency department as he was recovering from the stroke. It was like having my old Dad back. It was bizarre and wonderful and heart wrenching and I ate up every second of it. He laughed. Actually laughed. And cracked jokes and was his old self.

I am grateful for my marriage because without it I would not have become who I am. I am grateful for divorce because without it I would not be able to be who I am. I am grateful for my cats because those rascals keep me company when the boys are gone on Sundays. They keep me sane with their insanity. I am grateful for my mom, my sister, my sister-in-law, and my niece who have been a constant presence in my life and supported me unflinchingly through this divorce and who love my sons as much as I do.

I am grateful for the intense and sometimes debilitating grief I feel for my Dad because it is a reflection of the love I felt for my Dad the truly unconditional love he felt for me. I wish he were here. I wish I could talk to him about my divorce and mediation and hear him tell me he would support me no matter what and ask me what I need and tell me to just keep moving forward because that’s what we have to do. And he’d make some comment about how at least I’m not Catholic because when he got divorced the fucking priest told him to get the feck out of the church. (He was still a little bitter about that). He’d tell me he met my Mom after he got divorced from his first wife, and look at how lucky he was to have my Mom and me and my sister. He’d tell me he’d never have had me in his life if he hadn’t gotten divorced.

I know he’d say these things because I knew my Dad. So well. We had all those conversations. He always told me he was grateful for divorce because it gave him me and my sister. He told me he felt lost after his divorce felt like he was a failure and that he missed his kids from his first marriage so much. He told me he loved my sister and I and he was always so incredibly proud of us both. He told me he didn’t know how I came from him because he admired me.

It’s been raining the last few days and so I did a 550 piece puzzle. I don’t think I’ve done a puzzle since before the boys were born. I listened to an audiobook and actually had time to do it because the boys occupied themselves with toys, games, and tv. They would intermittently pop in and “help” me with the puzzle and also make me take breaks to play Memory with them.

The audiobook I listened to had a line about grief. It hit me.

“Smells are the worst. Smells can put you right back into the belly of grief. When you love too hard you can lose the will to live without them. Nothing feels right and everything cuts.” I remember giving my Dad hugs and digging my face into his left chest. If he was wearing his army uniform there would be a pocket there and maybe some pins or his name pin. It always had a starchy smell to it mixed with his deodorant. If I hugged him on a holiday he’d smell of cologne and still have a pocket on his left chest that I would rub my face into. If I close my eyes I can almost feel his shirt, smell his scent, and feel like I am with him.

Dear reader if you take nothing else from this post: remember that grief is a reflection of your love for someone. True grief is a reflection of true love. Do not run from it, do not hide from it, let it in, little by little so it can be felt in pieces and can help you remember how deeply you loved. For what is a life without love? My Dad would say it is a life that is empty. My Dad would say “You have to do it Muffin, because you might just get lucky like I did.”

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