Gratitude and Grief

Grief:  deep and poignant distress caused by or as if by bereavement

A ride on Amtrak is a lovely way to end an emotional few day visit to my father, who is dying. I have no outpouring of tears yet although my grief is palpable. I long for that catharsis that crying brings but for now I’m in a holding pattern, wondering how many days he has left. Whether it’s one day or a week, it’s imminent. Sitting in a seat with no one next to me on the train is the ultimate way to have privacy in the public square, a winning combo. I have a New Yorker containing some of my favorite writers but I cannot concentrate. Which is where windows come in. I can gaze at the landscape going by at a steady clip and let my grief and gratitude wash over me. I’m sad. I’m blessed.I cherish this segue into my ordinary life with T and V picking me up at the station.

The fact is the ride is too short; I’d welcome more time to process these complicated feelings and yet are they? We love each other so much, which is as simple as it gets. My siblings and I are all weathering this storm in our own way.

The end of life though fortunately free of physical pain for my father is painful nonetheless.  The end of life with round the clock care. The end of life with moments of lucidity, hours of reading to him, short conversations. He seems to absorb a lot yet it’s hard to know. Bedbound, weak, practically blind, limited hearing – no, growing old isn’t for sissies. 

I say my goodbyes and I love you – I can’t say that enough – and in a barely audible rasp he says it back.

I wrote that last week and here I am after the long weekend home and another soothing train ride back to Philadelphia where my brother picks me up and we continue on to see my dad with my sister, who has been here for over a week, spending days and nights with my dad, tending to his needs and coordinating his help. It’s a lot and she does it with competence and caring. My brother has been amazing too, so devoted and helpful; as the one who lives closest he does the most for my father. He does it with a generous spirit and utter devotion. I am staying with my brother and sister-in-law who are always the perfect hosts, which helps to assuage the sorrow in my heart, the grief of watching someone so beloved fade away.

I remind myself that this ending is a stage in a long happy life, that for 94 of 95 years he was sharp and wise and funny and kind, that he only retired a year ago! How amazing is that? Still a long full life does not prevent the heavy feelings that come with loss. We will miss him. I miss him already.

Last Thursday the hospice nurse said it was a matter of days so I hopped on a train that same afternoon.  Today she came back and said timing was unknown, that dad was an anomaly.

So it’s all a mystery, we’ll have to wait and see. What we know for sure is the end is near and I’m so appreciative for all he’s given to me and the rest of the world. In all his modesty he is a great man and for that I’m grateful. And full of grief that is the sign of lasting love.

12 thoughts on “Gratitude and Grief

  1. I am so sad to read these words. Those who know him love him. That will never die. Yes-Gratitude and grief… a great man -my thoughts are with [and of] family.


  2. I have a meditative swim practice that often includes chanting prayers. For the last year or so, I have been devoting a portion of my swim prayer to Joe/Zeide. It has taken the form of the Jewish prayer for healing. The other day, when swimming, Modah Ani, the prayer for gratitude broke through when I was holding him in my heart — and I thought, how appropriate. So thank you, Joan, for this perfect blog. I am indeed boundlessly grateful to have had him as my first class, five star father-in-law, (and to witness him as a first class, five star father, husband, brother, Zeide, Elste Zeyde, uncle, attorney, friend, colleague and mensch.) Love you, Joe! May your final journey be graced.


  3. Sending love to you, Joan. It’s a difficult time for you, I know. Your words are beautiful. I used to walk to see Mom and just stop and stare at the sky. That time alone to process is so important. Love.


  4. What a beautiful tribute. I feel the same emotions and of course feel the same for my dear brother. i do miss him. He was a joy and inspiration to be a part of my life. Thanks for your beautiful words..

    Love, , Betty


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