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As soon as I woke up this morning, I felt annoyed.
It wasn’t that Baby Sis had been up intermittently since 4:00am. It wasn’t that N came downstairs at 6:00am to watch me do my exercises and chat while I was working up a sweat. It wasn’t even that I was bleary-eyed and tired and just wanted to go back to bed.
I was annoyed at my dad for dying five years ago tomorrow.
Especially annoyed that he chose to take his own life.
Each year around this time, I feel a weird, silent presence sneaking up beside me, casting a shadow over my mood. His name is Grief. He’s like a strange person you don’t really care to be around, but in a bizarre way you consider him a friend. The one you always have to invite to your party — and just hope he doesn’t show up.
For me, Grief shows up when green spring leaves are budding on the trees. He’s sneaky, so I don’t even know he’s there, casting his stupid little cloud over me. I get irritated at everyone and everything and I just want to be left alone. Then I realize — oh, it’s just Grief. Swell. Did he at least bring some chips and salsa?
So back to this morning. Greg went to work, N went to preschool and Baby Sis went down for a nap, so it was just me and Grief hanging out. I decided to fold some laundry — a basket of sheets.
I hate folding sheets. I guess the top sheet and pillowcases aren’t bad, but fitted sheets are absolutely horrible. I’m sure there is a way to fold them neatly but I can never figure out how to do it. If I tried getting a job as a housekeeper, I would definitely fail that part of the exam. I usually just try to bunch them up as quickly as possible and stuff them into a drawer.
I picked up the two fitted sheets in the pile. As usual, I bunched them up and started to put them away — but something didn’t feel right. I spread them back on the bed and looked at them. Then I actually tried re-folding them, slowly and carefully this time.
At first my mind was screaming, this is torture! You have so many other things to do — why are you wasting your time on this?? No one but you sees these sheets anyway, so who cares whether they’re neat??
But a voice in my head (I think I know who!! Grief, is that you?) told me — slow down. Fold the sheets carefully. Try hard to make them neat.
So I tried. My product might still not have passed muster with the Housekeepers Union, but it came out better than before.
Then a strange thing happened. I did something I’ve never done before: I got out ALL of our sheets — fitted sheets, top sheets and pillowcases. I shook them out and began re-folding them.
It was quite zenlike, actually. I really had to concentrate on matching up the corners, making neat creases, not hitting the ceiling fan above me, etc. Instead of my mind screaming at me, it became calm and quiet.
And I started thinking about my dad. (Tricky Grief, that was your plan all along, wasn’t it??)
I thought about all the special keepsakes and trinkets I kept in my room growing up. I’d get something small from my Granny or a yard sale — a little porcelain kitty or a teacup — and I would carefully display it on one of my shelves. I arranged my things with great care and dusted them often. Maybe it was an early nesting instinct or something, but I was proud of my little doodad displays.
My dad never seemed to understand. He belittled me for keeping “stuff” and made a big show of not attaching importance to his things. This continued throughout my time in college, when we sold our farm and the house where I grew up. He wanted to throw everything away when we moved — things that to me signified childhood memories. To him, they were just things.
I guess that’s how I feel about how he died. He chose to end his life — to throw away the most precious gift. I don’t understand that and I never, ever will.
So this morning, I carefully folded every damn fitted sheet we own. It took time and effort on my part, but it felt so good to practice taking care of something that is an integral part of our home. The art of taking care and nurturing is part of my healing process — to counter my father taking so little care of his things, his relationships or his life.
Okay, Grief, you did your job. You hung out for a while, which was nice, I suppose. The chips and salsa were good, thanks. But the party’s over now, time to go home!
Unless there is more laundry to fold…? Sigh…
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