The donkey is small, barely two feet high, and heavy. Very heavy. With bent knees I hook one arm under its chin and the other around its legs, exhale slowly and lift. My curses and deep sighs propel me through the kitchen, down the long staircase and out into the carport. The ass is heavy but its wagon almost defeats me. I thank my nameless god the wheels still work as I pull it over the washed floors, freshly cleaned carpets and down the steps, letting it fall on each one like a bag of cement. My irritation grows even though the rest that follows is lightweight: a wooden bookshelf, a wicker loveseat and a metal planter. It is the detritus left on my father’s patio after we moved most of his stuff last month. It is all that remains from twenty-five years of condo living.
Funny how I had looked forward to this last effort. It would be easy, I thought, no need for help. The place would finally be empty and we would be finished a move that started in December. And while it was more physical work than expected the anger it brought up took me off guard. I was shaking with emotion by the time I finished some twenty minutes later. It wasn’t until I arrived at the coffee shop for the self-promised reward of a chai-tea latte that I was able to look inside and explore. Underneath all that adrenalin-fueled rage was grief.
I had not expected it. So much so that when the barista asked me how my evening was going I told her in a confusing deluge of half sentences and abrupt phrases.
I just cleaned out the last of my father’s condo…I have no emotional connection to this place…It was really heavy…I am really emotional…I am going now.
I sat in the car and cried.
And there lies grief’s most reliable truths: it takes us by surprise.
I remember the memorial service of my father’s third wife, Mary. They had only been married a half a dozen years when her heart unexpectedly stopped in the middle of the night. Although I was not emotionally attached to Mary I broke down during the service: my blood ran cold; I couldn’t stop shaking. I came across to some as melodramatic and attention seeking but my tears were real. In retrospect, it wasn’t Mary that I mourned. The memorial triggered a memory, allowing me to revisit my mom’s passing some thirty years prior.
That is also one of grief's motifs: no respect for time.
My father, thankfully, is not dead. He is actually quite healthy; it is not his demise that I grieve. It is, instead, his gradual loss of independence. Whereas five months ago he was driving a car, going to aquafit and cooking meals he now depends on a walker, gets his meals made and, ever so often, seems disorientated. Two unexpected surgeries at 88 threw him for a loop. He has changed. Our patterns of being together have altered.
Grief feeds on the unexpected.
My father is still capable of handling most of his personal affairs but, at times, he needs support—his memory fails him; he needs a drive over here, a liaison over there. I have never been overly close with him but have worked hard at developing a relationship in the last few years. It is ironic that when we are finally able to connect as equals, our roles are reversing, slowly, methodically.
Grief doesn’t care if it’s irrational.
As I write this I wonder if I even know what I am talking about. I have no real confidence in my reasons for being sad, I just know I am. And, in truth, it is all that matters.
Grief just is.