When my children were small they spent part of the day in day care while I served a church and went to graduate school. Whenever I could, I would pick them up early to have more time with them in the afternoon before supper. I would sometimes get stuck in traffic on the way to pick them up from school. I remember experiencing a feeling of rising urgency that almost became panic, as I sat trapped in traffic, yearning for my children. I needed to be with them, to hold, them, to reclaim them, to be sure they were happy, safe and loved. It was almost the kind of urgency that would lead someone to speed, run red lights, pass in no passing zones, and get into the HOV lane though they were alone in their car. It was a near panic attack I controlled by calming my breathing and reminding myself that I was a sensible, self controlled person and that red lights don’t last forever.
I remember one time, I left campus early and was very excited about getting to pick my 18 month old son up by 3:30. I planned to take him to the park and to the library to get some new books and movies. I pulled into the daycare parking lot and walked down the hall to his classroom. There he sat in a high chair, in a row with several other adorable toddlers in their high chairs. It was somebody’s birthday, and each child had a pink frosted cupcake on the tray in front of them. He looked up from his cupcake with an expression that said, “Why are you here interrupting our party?”
My dad has been gone for almost 10 years now. He passed away in November of 2002 at age 76 of liver cancer. He had a surgery, several months of seemingly improved health, then a sudden decline and death. At the time I consoled myself with a couple of thoughts. One was that he was suffering and this was a welcome release. Another was that he had been an active, ambitious man who liked to be in the middle of things. He would not have wanted a kind of old age that involved a lengthy, gradual decline.
I have returned to these two thoughts many times over the past 10 years. Now and then I feel myself guided by his advice, almost as if he were at my side offering it. Now and then I feel him encouraging me to do something or affirming me for something I’ve done.
The other night I was lying in bed reading and thought of my dad. Probably partly because last Sunday was Father’s Day. And a friend’s father had just passed away. I thought about how it has now been almost 10 years since I last saw him. I visualized his face and experienced a jolt of panic- much like the separation anxiety I used to feel when trapped in traffic on the way to the daycare. Along with the moment of panic was a stab of despair because I don’t know when I will meet him again. I was blindsided by this panic, ambushed by it. It was unexpected and unwelcome and all I could do was keep breathing until it passed.
I thought bereavement came with some statute of limitations. No one I know has ever mentioned having such an experience. I don’t think I’ve ever read about it. I was unprepared for bereavement, after 10 years, to have morphed from general sadness to a moment of panic.
It hasn’t come back. I don’t anticipate that it will, but who knows?
Looking back I think my being apart from my children for a few hours several days a week was harder for me than it was for them. Looking ahead, I trust the same is true for my beloved parent.
When there is no flesh and blood person to embrace, I take comfort in a couple of thoughts:
One is that God my loving parent is embracing me as God’s child. The other is that God our loving parent is embracing my parent as well.