Grief and a Milkshake

We pull up to the stop light on the corner of Gunbarrel and Shallowford Road. Walgreen’s is on the left corner. Steak and Shake positioned on the right. The van is quiet except for the hum of the engine and the radio tuned to something chill. The day was warmer than it had been last week and was bright and sunny after what seemed like endless days of rain. My husband and I were running some errands and for some reason, our normal banter and inside jokes were silent today. Nothing was wrong - we were lost in our own thoughts and enjoying each other’s quiet company. 

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my husband’s head nod toward the right. “You remember that time, your dad and I went to go get milkshakes for everyone as a treat after working in the yard all day?” I nodded without looking at him. Danny chuckled, “Your Dad was so funny. He let out that long whistle and shook his head when they gave us the total.” Danny laughed harder this time, then mimicked my Dad’s voice, “$14 dollars?!  (Imitates long whistle) For milkshakes?” I turned to look at the Steak & Shake sign and watched the next car pull up to the window.

I felt the van pull forward and we moved through the intersection.  My eyes followed the sign until we were over the hill.  I turned to look at Danny’s profile.  There were wrinkles around his eyes.  His jaw moved in rhythm from the chewing gum.   He was still smiling at the memory of my Dad.

“I miss my Dad,”  I said softly.  I’m surprised he even heard me.

“I know you do,” he said simply.  “I miss your Dad too.”

Any other ordinary day we would’ve spent the next 20 minutes remembering funny stories about him.  We would have laughed so hard until we were shaking our head, pinching the bridge of our nose and wiping away the tears from the corners of our eyes.  But I didn’t want to do that today.  It still amazes me how my husband can so easily read the difference.  

I wanted to be melancholy.  Quiet on purpose.  I wanted to feel reverent about his memory.  I wanted to think of him without cramming laughter and jokes into the conversation of him.  I didn’t want to laugh.  I wanted to remember him in peace.  In the stillness, I wanted to sit with my thoughts of him. Not cry.  Not laugh.  Just be.  He’s been gone since September 2012.

While I was thinking of my dad, my mind wandered to my childhood friend who only recently lost her dad. Her pain is fresh, unreal and raw.  I imagine that right now she is unable to process the loss of him.  She is feeling the sudden void – the space where her father would be – empty and cavernous.  Her dad is gone – that missing piece of her life that no amount of sympathy cards, covered dishes or flowers will ever fill.

I remember being where she is and not being able to believe that I am where I am right now.  Living through the days and months I was able to grieve, and then laugh again.  I survived dark nights and missing phone calls and seeing his smile just one more time.   I missed feeling his hugs, sharing a container of Chinese food and thinking of the day he complained that Steak & Shake milkshakes were $14.00. 

That one day I could leave an intersection on a random Sunday afternoon, over five years after losing him and still feel the sharp pain in my chest and the prickle in my dry throat.  My body feels the sensation of grief, but my eyes fail to respond.  No tears – only the physical memory of emptiness.  It takes time.  It’s a process.  Some days are great and the memories fill you up and make you feel warm and sunshiny as if the person you love is still right here.  But there are other days when the numbness sets in again.  But I have to believe, every moment will lead to the next one and I will laugh again and smile at his memory.