One of my tribe members lost her daddy yesterday.
He was suffering from Alzheimer’s, and she and her family have been watching him slowly decline into a person they didn’t recognize. That horrible disease inhabited him, stealing his personality, his humor, his intellect, his memory. She didn’t want to let him go, but she didn’t want him to just exist, just dwell inside a body when everything that made him, him had been replaced with a blankness—not to mention the physical pain that made her hurt as it hurt him.
She didn’t want to let him go, but in truth, her Daddy was already gone.
She knew this.
It doesn’t matter.
Today, she and her mama and brother and sister and child and nieces and nephews grieve his leaving.
My pain is not worse than hers. Hers is not worse than mine.
It was her daddy. It was my daddy.
It is her grief, and that makes it the worst grief in the world.
It is my grief, and that makes it the worst grief in the world.
I look around and see the hurts that other people, people I know and people I don’t know, have endured, endure on a daily basis, and I feel selfish.
It wasn’t their daddy. It was their child.
It wasn’t just one child. It was two children.
It wasn’t sudden. It was and is unbearably long, languishing like a loathsome trespasser who refuses to heed the “Keep Out” signs. It wouldn’t go away. It wouldn’t quit hurting them every time they had to see someone they love keep hurting.
But I feel selfish because I can go for minutes or hours or days or weeks and not be debilitated by yours. I can go for minutes or hours or days or weeks and not even think about yours.
But I never quit thinking about my own.
Because it is the worst.
Because it is mine.
We all have a list of the worst things that could happen to us. There is a scale, a scale of unmentionable horrors, a list of who’s and how’s. All the little people are at the very top. The bigger people reside closer to the bottom.
But the thing is, that worst thing that could happen to us, graciously, may never, ever happen. And something not on the list, because you never imagined it was possible for it to end up on the list, occurs, and everything is all cattywompus. It is completely out of the realm.
For me, it was my daddy leaving on purpose. Never in a cazillion years would that have turned up on my list.
For my dear friend, it was her daddy losing himself while he still lived. Not on her list.
It is her pain, so it is the worst pain.
It is my pain, so it is the worst pain.
It is your pain, so it is the worst pain.
It is the worst pain ever.
Because you can’t just interchange labels for people and make your loss the same as someone else’s. Because it isn’t the label of the person who leaves—daddy, grandparent, best friend, aunt, child, mentor, next door neighbor, co-worker–it is the relationship with that person and that person’s person, and neither are interchangeable.
The inside jokes.
The phrases they used all the time, the phrases that were so them.
The moments between y’all that are indelible because they were profound, life-changing, revealing, honest.
The particular way they combed their hair or said your name or let you kiss their cheek.
The way they stepped out to look someone in the eye, shake their hand, and introduce themselves.
The stories they told about when they were little that they passed down to you.
The little things, like the food they loved and the music they loved and the moments in which they shared them with you and made you love that food and that music. too.
Like Vanilla Blue Bell ice cream.
Like Stevie Nicks.
Those things you only know about a person when you have known them your entire life, known them well, known them deeply, known them down to their core. Those things that you only shared with that one person. Those things that didn’t just make them unique, but made them special….
My dear friend is living her first full day without her daddy on Earth, and it takes her breath when she stops for a second and realizes….
Her grief is the worst.
Because it was her daddy. Because her daddy wasn’t just any daddy. He was a gentle, kind, sweet soul whom she could talk to differently than any other person she had ever known because he knew her inside and out, and he loved her with all of himself. He was a man who showed her how to love by the way he loved her mama. He was a guy who loved Vanilla Blue Bell ice cream.
He was him. And he left.
And her grief is the worst because it is hers.
Because he was him.
And my grief is the worst because it is mine.
Because he was him.
And yours is the worst because it is yours.
And they were them.
It was her daddy, but her grief is not the same as mine, even though it was my daddy, too.
My daddy left on purpose and her’s did not, but my grief is not worse than hers.
It is just mine.