The Layers of Grief and Hope


Words by Anonymous


I remember daddy’s beard - prickly, red - brushing up against my cheek as we kissed goodnight. I remember running into his strong arms when he picked me up from school. He lifted me up so high.

I remember hearing big words that meant nothing to me: Bi-polar disorder. Chronic Fatigue Immune Deficiency Syndrome. Dad was sick.

Sometimes he was happy and full of life, reading all the books, dreaming all the dreams, spending all the money. Other times he was confined to his bed, brown puffy circles under his eyes, wishes for death whispered under his breath.

I remember dad talking way over my head, like he was trying to let me in on some secret.
I remember him passing out and falling down the stairs.
I remember climbing into his bed and folding paper airplanes together, watching them fly high and fall fast.

I remember walking home from school one day with a song from choir class stuck in my head. The song was about dinosaurs in all their strength and might disappearing from the earth. When I arrived home, Mom was crying. She was sobbing. Her lungs were demanding air, demanding the space to expand, asking her for the nourishment of breath - like she had forgotten.

With a balled-up wet Kleenex dabbing her eye then held loosely in her fist, she told me the information that would forever divide my life into before and after: Dad had shot himself. Dad was dead.



After • 1 day later
My teacher asks me to step into the hallway. Why are you here at school today? I heard what happened to your dad. I'm so sorry.
I don't understand. I am here because it is a school day. I am here because it is just another day.

After • 30 days later
Another book finished. My fingers flipped through 300 pages today, my mind lost in a world much easier to understand than my own.

After • 1 year later
I am at a new school. We are sitting on round plastic lunch table seats eating soggy peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. My friend asks, what about your dad? My eyes dart quickly to the floor as I mumble something about my dad living far away. I justify the lie in my head. Maybe it's true, I tell myself, maybe none of this is real.

After • 4 years later
I am in the passenger seat, riding with my Converse sneakers up on the dash. Staring through the smeared glass as the world goes by - I am lost, it's all moving too fast. Another driver's red beard catches my eye. Could it be him? A part of me believes it. It's easier to believe that it was all a lie, a big hoax - that daddy is off somewhere living another life without us, that he didn't want us to watch his mental illness hurt him but he didn't want to die either, not really. It is easier to believe this - that he lied, that he's still out there somewhere. I keep the secret to myself - dad's still out there somewhere, I know it.


After • 9 years later
I am rustling through papers, my hands moving fast. I am reading dad’s letters and journal entries, trying to piece something together - something to make sense of it all. What the hell were you thinking, dad? Why am I left only with a box of you?

After • 15 years later
My son has a photo album, glossy pages displaying pictures of those who love him most. We are flipping through it together, looking at aunts, uncles, and grandparents. My dad is missing. He never got to hold my son. I imagine what could have been: chunky baby thighs, rolls spilling over onto dad’s freckled hairy arms. He isn't here for this. I guess he didn't want to be.


After • 1 year later
"Pleasure to have in class." Magnets hold my fifth grade report card on the refrigerator: straight A’s. I believe that if I am perfect, maybe I can prevent my mom from dying, too.

After • 2 years later
My legs lean against the cold tiles on the bathroom floor. My stomach is turning. Please, God. I will be better. I am gasping for air, longing for control. My mind is unaware that my body is processing loss. Night after night, my stomach turns and I believe that I am dying. Night after night, I promise God I will be perfect if he will keep everyone alive.

After • 3 years later
My skin is cracked and bleeding, bright red. I feel hot burning water wash over my hands, I breathe in the smell of soap. I breathe in relief, control. The water washes away my fear, burning away the possibility of sickness, chaos, and death.


After • 11 years later
My fiancé and I are listening to music together, stuffing envelopes with wedding invitations. A Bon Iver song comes on. I wonder to myself if dad would like this song. I think maybe he would. I wish he could've heard it. I wish he could be there to walk me down the aisle. That night I cry myself to sleep.

After • 12 years later
My eyes open as the sun is coming up. I'm already crying. I bury myself deeper underneath the covers. I hide my eyes from the light. I type an email to my boss, I'm not coming in today, I'm sick. I lay in bed. Why is this so hard? Shouldn't I be over this? Am I the only one who remembered that the anniversary of his death is today? My husband and I sit in silence together eating chocolate fudge ice cream. I hide the tears behind thick-rimmed glasses.

After • 16 years later
Everyone is asleep. My son's chest rises and falls, filling and emptying of breath. My husband’s eyes are soft, lost in a dream. I know I would do anything for them. I long to protect them from pain. I wish my imperfections wouldn't hurt them. I wonder if this is what dad felt like. I wonder if he believed he would hurt me, that my life was better without him. For the first time, I cry because I'm sad for him - my dad, for the way he hated himself, sad for how hopeless he sounded in his journal. I am sad because he's gone, because I wish I could have known him.


After • 5 years later
My hands tremble, gripping a cold microphone. Words quietly leave my lips and are amplified through loudspeakers as I stare somewhere above the crowd. I am sharing my story, even though my voice is shaking. I am sharing my story, even though I’m still somewhere in the middle of it all.

After • 12 years later
It is my wedding day. I saved a seat for dad. Next to my mom in the front row is a framed photo of dad standing tall, a smile on his face, his hair reflecting the warmth and brightness of the sun.

After • 17 years later
The anniversary of his death means something to me. I have decided to spend it at the coast. I breathe in the smell of ocean air. I watch the tides rise and fall. I am lost in the rhythm of the waves, the ebb and flow of the water. Grief is like an ocean. There are moments of calm. There are moments that the waves are crashing unexpectedly at my feet, icy water soaking through to my bones, desperately demanding my full attention. It cannot be bottled up and placed on a shelf, it cannot be reduced to words. There are moments of shadow and cold. Yet there are moments of warmth when the sun peeks through the clouds. Even amidst the layers of grief, there are layers of hope.

Grief | Loss | Mourning | Stages of Grief