The Bureaucracy of Grief

At my father and Mary’s wedding, June 1987.

At my father and Mary’s wedding, June 1987.

This week I have lost a set of keys, my medicine bag, my sunglasses, my phone. I've missed appointments, forgotten to return phone calls, found myself forgetting what I was going to say or why I why I was going to say it. You have a grief brain, friends tell me. I'm in survival mode, fight or flight.

My dad has lost his profession, his home and his third wife. I’m help him settle into a life he never dreamed he’d have to face on its own. Sitting down to the page feels less like a practice and more like triage, emergency surgery, a tourniquet to slow the gushing of blood. It doesn’t feel like tending to the root of the original wound, it feels like pulling it out of the ground with my own two hands.

I’m forwarding mail, amending rental agreements, signing checks. And there still so much paperwork to do, so many objects to re-home. Moving and clearing and signing contracts. It's been emotional, wrenching and exhausting. There been huge unbridled swaths of grace. I have felt carried and protected and helped and loved. I have felt despair and anguish. I've come face to face with the bureaucracy of grief. Every stage of the ritual of death comes with a new paper to fill out, a brand new form.

Every day my dad discovers something he needs that he's left behind. A mirror, a book, photographs, shaving cream. I drive the route between his old home and the memory care unit 100 times. Now his doctors notes come to me. Degenerative discs, Parkinson’s, neurological disease. I feel like I'm trying to gather pieces of plaster after an explosion to rebuild at home.

In memory care my dad likes chair Tai Chi and pet therapy and when everyone sings. The caregivers are kind and helpful and concerned but the conversations between the residents at dinner are full of non sequiturs that are funny and alarming and sad. Every day my dad has wild hallucinations and cries alone in his room. I walk the line between caregiver, daughter and my own true self. There is no form to fill out for that.

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