It hasn’t been the most elegant crop of daffodils this year. More than usual, they seem to be blooming in “time release” mode. I walk around and see bunches of green, remnants of stems and leaves from the flowers that first appeared two weeks ago. In other places there are bunches erupting together. Then there are still the stems shooting up with blooms yet to emerge.
The more I think about it, the more appropriate it seems for this year. And, the more I think about it the more I like it. For a flower enthusiast, it’s a glorious sight when the bulk of daffodils bloom around the same time. For a few days the yard’s plain canvas is decorated with yellow clusters, almost like the early stages of a Christmas tree in progress. This year isn’t one of those years, but that’s okay. The trade-off is that the daffodils seem to keep on coming, in my yard and in life.
My dad’s been in the hospital for five days, a planned stay as he underwent a procedure on his heart. If things continue to go well, he’ll be discharged today. He’ll come home from the hospital on the same date that mom – for the last time – left home to go to the hospital. But, he’ll come home! Daffodils.
Sometimes life lets us rest. Sometimes it pokes and prods us, forcing us to acknowledge circumstances we’d rather save for another day. It’d be nice if we could pick and choose when we’ll deal with the negatives lurking in the background. Then again, if we had that option then most of us would never actually “deal” with the really difficult stuff at all.
In grief as in many other areas of life, there’s an element of choice. That choice is less about the specific moments when grief will hit us, or how we’ll grieve when it does hit us. Rather, it’s about our attitudes in general. We can choose to wallow in the mud of grief, determined to make it as deep as possible and to stay there as long as possible and to pull everyone we can into the mud with us. Or, we can choose not to do that. For those who choose the latter, it doesn’t mean that we don’t deal with moments (even hours or days) when our hearts are troubled by sadness. It means we accept that there are no exceptions, not even for us. It means we don’t view ourselves as the unfortunate victim in every negative circumstance as if God is conspiring to punish us more than the next person. It means we don’t allow the negative emotions to monopolize our hearts and minds, we’re also recalling the happy memories and actively looking for joy in our lives today. Eventually, it means that not everything is about the person who is no longer with us.
For some of us, that last statement can seem harsh. There’s a subtle mindset – a lie – that we buy into, the believe that to no longer display sadness is to no longer feel love for the person who is gone. I’ve said more than once, “Don’t mistake my tears for being ‘not okay,’ and don’t confuse an absence of tears with me being unaffected.” I’ve walked the path with plenty of people whose mission was to keep someone’s memory alive. At times it became difficult to discern whether they were trying to keep a memory alive or fighting to keep a person alive. The latter is a painful, miserable, and futile place to be.
Grief isn’t like a meal ordered at a restaurant, a loved one dies and then we digest all of our negative emotions in one sitting. It’s the stray dog that hangs around for prolonged periods, then he’ll disappear for a while before we come home one day to find him back on our steps.
My encouragement to you: express your emotions when you feel them. When you feel sad, cry. When you feel mad, vent. When you feel confused, ask questions. One of the many problem areas of grief is that we try to keep too much bottled inside us. “I’m trying to be strong for _________.” Being strong and not showing grief have no correlation at all. I’ll even go so far as to suggest: 1) the strongest people are the ones who can allow themselves to display their most vulnerable emotions; and 2) those who try to portray a facade of strength are actually chaining themselves to sadness that will go deeper and last longer.
When you need to grieve, grieve. Let it out. Take a moment. Step outside. Retreat to the bathroom. Gather yourself. Or, just lose it in front of everybody and make them awkwardly watch you for a few minutes! When you do need to grieve, though, make a choice. Determine your attitude about the grief you have. Will you bemoan the inability to see all of the daffodils in simultaneous bloom, or will you be thankful for the small, random flowers that keep popping up in your life’s yard?
Daffodils are there. Go find them!