At approximately 5:15 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 1, my mother-in-law called me on my mobile phone as I was driving out of the parking garage at work in Midtown Atlanta. “Lanny has been in an accident” were the words that began a journey for our family that culminated in another phone call, at about 10 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day.
“He’s gone, he’s gone, Daddy’s gone,” my wife heartbreakingly wept into the phone.
During the last two months, our lives have been emotionally and somewhat physically upended. My mother-in-law lived at the hospital in Augusta for more than three weeks while Daddy was treated in the shock and trauma unit. My wife, Carla, spent countless hours commuting back and forth to Augusta to be by her mama’s and daddy’s side. Hundreds of people supported us with childcare, meals, and financial gifts to defray the cost of travel and feeding our family while Carla was out of work.
Our church family at Parkway Baptist Church proved that care and love was not lip service. My parents left their busy lives and commitments to come and be with us, getting the boys on and off the bus and allowing me to do my job. Our across-the-street neighbors took our boys on so many occasions I have lost count, including on Thanksgiving Day just moments after our boys learned that their grandfather had died.
This is a lot to go through, to understand, to process, to grieve. And like an actor in a supporting role, I have tried to play my part, dutifully, with strength and grace, out of the limelight but lifting up those around me.
But in the process, I fear that I have tamped down my own feelings of loss and regret.
As the son-in-law, I have no blood-relation claim to the grief that my wife carries and is so amazingly overcoming. Even my sons have certain rights, by my way of thinking, which entitle them to grieve this loss in an open way, as best as children can, according to their emotional maturity.
Please don’t misunderstand what I’m about to say: I know this is not about me. I’ve repeated that mantra so many times in the quiet moments at home around the supper table with my boys as their mother was away. I’ve whispered it to myself in hospital waiting rooms. I’ve recited it as I drove to the hospital on Thanksgiving Day, tears obscuring my vision, knowing I was about to stand with two people I love dearly and look on the face of my father-in-law, who would no longer be present in that body.
I know this isn’t about me. I really do.
But how in God’s name am I supposed to feel? Am I allowed any grief? How can I ease the pain of loss that is just beneath the surface, taking all my energy to control as I navigate through my days, trying to focus on working and receiving the generosity and care of others and giving care and strength to my family while celebrating holidays?
How do I get over this? Do I get over this? Is trying to move forward a dishonor to Daddy’s memory? Is feeling or desiring joy a betrayal? Is gloom and sorrow the only emotion to feel? Why do I think that showing sadness just makes me appear weak, pathetic, and a pretender, someone who simply wants attention or to participate in a loss that isn’t really his?
No one has made me feel this way. It’s all in my head. But until now it has remained in my head. I have been in a state of survival numbness that has blocked my ability to express anything.
I was blessed with the opportunity to offer a personal eulogy at the graveside service. It took all of my resources to craft an appropriate word, and writing it did offer a beginning of my own healing. Delivering it to a hurting company of family and friends on that gray December day left me utterly spent as I struggled to say words that were so connected to my heart that I struggled to breathe and give voice to them. I haven’t written anything since.
Today, I am making you part of my journey of grief. If I have resolved to do anything differently this new year, it is to loosen the reins on my emotions and let some of this out. I can’t keep pretending I’m OK. I’m really not.
Lanny Carl Barron was not a perfect man, but he was “Daddy” to me. I have a father. I am blessed to have a dad whom I deeply love and who is still here for me to guide me and support me. I need that wisdom and care now more than ever. But that does not stop me from missing Daddy.
Too often I refrain from saying out loud just how much because I don’t want to upset my wife, Mama, or the boys. But here, now, I am telling you that the loss of my father-in-law is affecting me in a profound way, tapping into unresolved grief from losing my grandparents and maybe every other type of loss I’ve ever experienced back to the days when my first boyhood dog had to be put to sleep.
I promise not to let New South Essays become a morose stream of my darkest thoughts. As the clouds part, I will be able to give energy to other topics, but today, I have to begin my return to feeling by sharing this.
Thank you for reading. And if this somehow speaks to you in your own journey of grief, then God bless you. I know that I am not alone, and that does make a difference.
You are invited to leave your thoughts in a comment below. Perhaps you have unexpressed feelings of loss and putting those feelings in a comment here will help. I invite you to share.
Lance Elliott Wallace lives and writes in the Atlanta suburb of Lilburn, where he lives with his wife, Carla, and three sons. He works as Director of Communications for the Georgia Tech Research Institute and blogs at www.NewSouthEssays.com.