As soon as I woke up this morning, I felt annoyed.
It wasn’t that Baby Sis had been up intermittently since 4:00am. It wasn’t that N came downstairs at 6:00am to watch me do my exercises and chat while I was working up a sweat. It wasn’t even that I was bleary-eyed and tired and just wanted to go back to bed.
I was annoyed at my dad for dying five years ago tomorrow.
Especially annoyed that he chose to take his own life.
Each year around this time, I feel a weird, silent presence sneaking up beside me, casting a shadow over my mood. His name is Grief. He’s like a strange person you don’t really care to be around, but in a bizarre way you consider him a friend. The one you always have to invite to your party — and just hope he doesn’t show up.
For me, Grief shows up when green spring leaves are budding on the trees. He’s sneaky, so I don’t even know he’s there, casting his stupid little cloud over me. I get irritated at everyone and everything and I just want to be left alone. Then I realize — oh, it’s just Grief. Swell. Did he at least bring some chips and salsa?
So back to this morning. Greg went to work, N went to preschool and Baby Sis went down for a nap, so it was just me and Grief hanging out. I decided to fold some laundry — a basket of sheets.
I hate folding sheets. I guess the top sheet and pillowcases aren’t bad, but fitted sheets are absolutely horrible. I’m sure there is a way to fold them neatly but I can never figure out how to do it. If I tried getting a job as a housekeeper, I would definitely fail that part of the exam. I usually just try to bunch them up as quickly as possible and stuff them into a drawer.
I picked up the two fitted sheets in the pile. As usual, I bunched them up and started to put them away — but something didn’t feel right. I spread them back on the bed and looked at them. Then I actually tried re-folding them, slowly and carefully this time.
At first my mind was screaming, this is torture! You have so many other things to do — why are you wasting your time on this?? No one but you sees these sheets anyway, so who cares whether they’re neat??
But a voice in my head (I think I know who!! Grief, is that you?) told me — slow down. Fold the sheets carefully. Try hard to make them neat.
So I tried. My product might still not have passed muster with the Housekeepers Union, but it came out better than before.
Then a strange thing happened. I did something I’ve never done before: I got out ALL of our sheets — fitted sheets, top sheets and pillowcases. I shook them out and began re-folding them.
It was quite zenlike, actually. I really had to concentrate on matching up the corners, making neat creases, not hitting the ceiling fan above me, etc. Instead of my mind screaming at me, it became calm and quiet.
And I started thinking about my dad. (Tricky Grief, that was your plan all along, wasn’t it??)
I thought about all the special keepsakes and trinkets I kept in my room growing up. I’d get something small from my Granny or a yard sale — a little porcelain kitty or a teacup — and I would carefully display it on one of my shelves. I arranged my things with great care and dusted them often. Maybe it was an early nesting instinct or something, but I was proud of my little doodad displays.
My dad never seemed to understand. He belittled me for keeping “stuff” and made a big show of not attaching importance to his things. This continued throughout my time in college, when we sold our farm and the house where I grew up. He wanted to throw everything away when we moved — things that to me signified childhood memories. To him, they were just things.
I guess that’s how I feel about how he died. He chose to end his life — to throw away the most precious gift. I don’t understand that and I never, ever will.
So this morning, I carefully folded every damn fitted sheet we own. It took time and effort on my part, but it felt so good to practice taking care of something that is an integral part of our home. The art of taking care and nurturing is part of my healing process — to counter my father taking so little care of his things, his relationships or his life.
Okay, Grief, you did your job. You hung out for a while, which was nice, I suppose. The chips and salsa were good, thanks. But the party’s over now, time to go home!
Unless there is more laundry to fold…? Sigh…
Hey it’s john. I think about your dad almost everyday. I miss him alot. I modeled my life after him and my Dad. Those two could do anything. I always think about you guys and the fun we used to have. I remember building houses with your dad and how awesome he was, I was always thought, how does he know how to do all of this stuff.
I remember your mom making sandwiches for lunch and how they were so perfect looking and good. Also she would make cookies at night, I always wanted to eat the whole plate lol.
The times at the Christmas tree farm were what I remember most. I miss those times with you guys. It was the greatest family experience. The talks I would have with your Dad were really good for me.
Miss Julie , that was a very honest and vulnerable way of sharing !!Quite brave actually!! Knowing you as a child and then living in your home when your family sold it was so bittersweet . This was a difficult read for me. Oddly enough i almost relive everything you said . the house bore witness . one of the strangest things about this was every time i carried laundry up or down the stairs i would get tears. i could see your moma doing that. your room was everyones favorite. we no longer live there but i still think of you and your family often !! Beautifully sad Julie !! thank you for sharing ! you never know who you might help. Love you!!!Roxanne PS I think you’re a great mom!!
Dear Roxanne, thank you so much for your lovely comments. As I shared them with my husband, I had to explain our families’ multiple connections over the years — and I realized what a closely-knit community we lived in. It’s very different living in Brooklyn, where people don’t know our family history and it’s easy to be anonymous. It means a lot that you remember those details and care enough to share them! It makes home feel a little bit closer!! I’m thankful for the internet and Facebook, that we can all stay a bit more connected — and I can see pictures of your beautiful daughters and their families!! All the best to you and yours, Julie
Julie – Your words are beautifully set out for us to read. Thank you for them. I cried and laughed – I know that is what you did, too. You continue to deal with your grief in such a peaceful way. BTW, I feel the same feeling of zen when folding those darn fitted sheets – next, try polishing silver!! It does even more for me!! You are precious to us – thank you for teaching us about that Grief guy. I love you. AMMA xoxo
Thank you for your love and support. And I thanked Greg too — over the past five years, his understanding and patience has helped me tremendously with healing and acceptance. Yesterday I sat down with Natalie and showed her some old pictures of Grandpa Steve, our family and our farm. However, she was most interested in the pictures of me dressed up for prom, ha ha! Thanks again – love you too.
Hey its John. I think about your Dad almost everyday. I looked up to him and your Mom so much. I modeled my life after him and my Dad. Those two know so much, they could do anything. I always liked hanging out with you guys, it was just always a great, fun, family environment.
I remember when I would work with your Dad when he was building houses. I thought it was so cool to help him out and the talks we would have in his old Ford truck. He tought me so much back then.
Your Mom was such a good host, like you! I always liked to eat lunch when we worked at the Christmas tree farm. She would make big plates of sandwiches with all different kinds, so good. If I was there at night she would make cookies and I would always Want to eat the whole plate! I remember the house was always so nice and clean and it always had a good smell to it. She’s so awesome.
The Christmas tree farm was always such an awesome experience. I love getting there early and getting ready for the day with your dad and learning about anything and everything. When we were slow we would talk. That’s one of the things I miss the most. I could talk to him. I was so shy and I would only talk to certain people. I could tell him anything. I could talk about my parents divorce, about troubles at school, dreams, anything. He would always listen. He was like another Dad to me. I miss him so much, which sounds crazy, he was just my uncle, but I could connect with him.
I feel for you and Stephen and your daughters. It makes me so angry that he would do that. I deal with depression also, I can relate to what he may have been feeling, somewhat. I just wish he could have got help and realized that it’s more than about him. My heart hurt so bad for you guys when he died.
I miss you guys and hope we can come see you all again. I hope I don’t bring up more emotions for you I just wanted you to know how I felt about your Dad and the memories I have. I wish he was there for your family. I know you are strong and can handle anything. You guys are a truly amazing family. We love you all.
John, thank you so much for sharing your heartfelt comments. They mean so much. I know my dad thought very highly of you and believed in you, and he was proud of the man you have become. He would be very happy for you and your growing family, if he could be here now.
I’m really glad you shared your thoughts. Sometimes it can feel — especially being far away from home — that I’m alone with certain memories or thoughts. To think that you share those memories with us is very meaningful and comforting.
It must have been jarring to hear the news about my dad. He carried around some inner demons that you may or may not have known about. But as you know he also cared a great deal about his family. I agree wholeheartedly about him needing to get help — I wish he would have, and that Natalie and Sadie could have met him. I’m angry that he chose to miss out on so much.
We think very highly of you and your family. You guys are wonderful and we can’t wait to see you again. Natalie keeps talking about wanting to see her Oklahoma cousins “Ethan and Nee-own-y,” ha ha. We will see you later this year and have some fun! Love you guys too!
Sorry for posting twice. I was at naomis softball game last night while trying to send it. My phone messed up and I didn’t think I sent it.
Beautiful post… thinking of you lots and hope you are having a nice weekend without Mr. Grief around anymore!! You are an amazing person and a great “caretaker” and nurturer, so hopefully you continue to heal through doing those things so well, as you have the past five difficult years! If you really have mastered the fitted sheet folding thing, can you do a YouTube and send it to me please???? I couldn’t agree more with the silver polishing though- VERY zen as I do it every few Christmases…Love you so much and miss my Mai Tai Mama 🙂