The Inconstant Companion

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Grief is an inconstant companion. It shows up at inopportune times, trailing the event that precipitated its arrival. Other times it lurks in the background, allowing us to get on with our lives, or at least pretend to. I was talking the other day to a colleague I don’t know that well, about my father-in-law’s murder. Something she said in sympathy set me off. Suddenly I was enveloped in a cloud of sadness and had to get out of her office as quickly as I could.

(If you’re just now arriving at this story, please go to these two articles: (http://garyborders.com/pages/harris-teel-always-a-fighter-in-his-biggest-battle/ and http://garyborders.com/pages/nurses-are-a-special-breed/).

Most of us have lived through folks dying before, especially old folks, but this is different. There is no making sense of someone getting stabbed in a waiting room while waiting to take a son home. And a nurse dying and others injured as well, on a rainy November day in East Texas when folks were thinking, as we were, about what we would prepare for Thanksgiving two days later. My wife worried about having her dad’s meal ready early  and that it would be just right — ham, sweet potatoes, salad, green beans, and more.

That’s what grief does, that inconstant companion. It keeps boomeranging back with memories. Experience tells me that it fades with time but never really goes away. You will always be draped with the mourning clothes of those you loved dearly. The intensity and frequency might dissipate, or it might not. I have no idea. Every death one mourns is different — a parent, a friend, God forbid a child.

Fortunately, children have a different perspective. My two oldest daughters were 9 and 6 when their maternal grandfather died of lung cancer in 1987. I remember wondering why they weren’t sadder than they were. Sure, they cried at times, but nothing like the adults. Soon they would go back to playing with their Barbies. I was foolishly tempted to chide them for not grieving enough. Luckily, I didn’t, finally figuring out that children just can’t stay sad that long. Besides, my daughters matter-of-factly accepted that their Grandpa Bobo was now in a better place.

It is a faith this family has as well today. It is just that our faith as adults can be buffeted by all these other feelings: loss and the knowledge that it is permanent — at least in this life — and anger, disbelief, a sense of surrealism. We don’t have the innocence of children when we believe as grown-ups. That is not possible anymore. The platitudes don’t provide as much comfort.

Our dogs, however, are a great source of comfort. On a canine level they understand something is awry, and they are even more attentive than usual. Sam and Rosie take every opportunity to find a human in the house to cuddle up to, whether it is one of us who live here full-time, or a family member visiting. It could simply be there is more activity in our home than usual, more folks coming and going. But those two little guys are pulling extra duty, cheering folks up as only dogs can do. I always figured that there is a reason dog is God spelled backward, at least in English.

As I made the hour-long drive to Atlanta the other day after classes, to meet the other family members and make funeral arrangements, I noticed the trees were in their final stages of fall colors. The foliage this fall has been lovely. I have always loved making this drive through the gentle hills of Northeast Texas, but not on this day.

We have had a fire going nearly constantly the past several days, using firewood Papa Teel cut and split by hand. That strong, crusty old man piled dozens of cords in a shed at his farm — enough to last for years. He told us to help ourselves anytime.

Our cache of wood is nearly gone. That means we will either have to drive up to the farm and get some more firewood, or do without.

Either way, we will have company. Our inconstant companion.

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