The phone rang off the hook. It was early, This was back in early May and I ignored it. It had to be marketing spam; why else would the phone not stop ringing?
As I woke up, my gut lurched. Nobody calls that many times unless…
Oh yes, it was bad. Beyond bad.
My father? Dead at 92 after valiantly fighting his way back to wellness. As I reached out to share the news I found more bad news. A beloved cousin? Gone from a massive widow maker heart attack that I was only finding about after the fact.. Only living uncle? Advanced dementia.
In the span of a few hours, I lost three people. Three.
Numb from too much loss, I left my house and went to see my daughter. She was grieving deeply, her grandfather was much beloved to her. I felt lost and suddenly I knew the feeling of being an orphan.
I was an orphan.
I shouldered on, comforting my daughter but when I decided to head back home, the eight-year-old demanded to come with me. “Nana cannot be alone,” she announced. “I need to take care of her.”
Explaining that Uncle Bob, my partner, would be returning from his trip on the morrow did not dissuade her. She packed up her school work, her softest blankie, her stuffed toys Jingles and Puppy and was resolute.
What. The. Heck.
Too internally distraught to argue, I shrugged and loaded her up in the car and headed back home. And as it turns out, having someone to feed and clothe and care for was a God send. Thank you Scarlett Rose, you clearly knew best.
Over the next few weeks, as I commandeered the wake and weekend burial at sea event, I realized just how important it was to keep busy. I also realized that little Scarlett wasn’t the only one who was pushy when she knew she was right, I threw myself into planning the wake, telling anyone and everyone who did and did not listen, that I had decades of event planning experience and they did not. And while this was indeed the truth, I was not the most patient or kind during that period. In truth, I was drowning in my grief.
As time went on, the event well in hand I realized I was going to need other things to keep me busy and from crumbling from the grief. I am not one to cry or emote openly. I keep things stuffed pretty far down, I am not one for tears, those closest to me knew me for the wounded animal I’d become and they waited, patiently and respectfully, because you could not talk to me, you could not comfort me. I was a lone wolf, shredding my soul under a dark and moonless sky.
I decided if I was going to get through this, I needed frugal focus. My dad, a frugal legend that I’d modeled so much of my lifestyle after, was my inspiration. I needed to honor Dad and his frugal ways.
So, I kept away from ordering anything on line that I did not need for the wake. I didn’t buy anything that was not absolutely essential which is pretty much the opposite of what most do. I kept the freezer organized and tidy. I made applesauce for the youngest grandbaby. Every morning, I made sure I had dinner planned. At dinner I made something for the next day. I kept using up leftovers like mad, nothing went to waste. Nothing.
My daughter, possibly channeling my coping mechanism, cleared out three giant bags of stuffed toys that I took. I kept every possible stuffed toy for our baby pit bull Annabelle to chew up and donated the rest. We kept busy. Did it soften my grief? No, but it kept me on track. Even the rusted metal hose holder bolted to the house in the back, I managed to get it repainted by digging out a stray can of spray paint. The garage was tidier than it had ever been, the garden lush and thriving. I got my second shot and become fully vaccinated, reaching my goal of helping to achieve herd immunity by doing my part. The new freezer hummed and made every meal so much easier to create. I was in complete control, never better organized or tidy and not spending a dime I did not need to spend.
God, I miss my dad.
What I learned however, is that certain habits can help you cope. Minding and using leftovers, keeping the garden growing, even baking bread because little Scarlett not only came to keep an eye on me, but she cooked with me every single meal. Yes cooking with a child is not nearly as efficient as cooking by yourself but I would not trade that time for anything. My well-meaning partner stopped reassuring me that it was ok to cry because I didn’t or if I did, it was in the bathroom while the tub was running. He tried but I wanted no comfort.
I wanted my dad. I wanted to see my cousin and that twinkle in his eye. I wanted to hear my Uncle’s gravely, reassuring voice., strong with purpose and wisdom. I wanted my life, pre-May 3rd back but I also knew it was gone forever.
I finally emailed a few friends who I knew would understand. Ramon, who has known me longer than anyone, responded via email by wryly observing that being around me must be all lightness and joy. Yup. He got it, totally. Everyone who did not know me well asked how I was coping and I had no words. How could I explain that I was simply shouldering on, hoping that I didn’t run out of projects or leftovers? That my only comfort was following my frugal ways that were now a matter of feeling in control of at least something? I could not control death or even the abyss that was my grief, but I could also not waste money, I could follow all the frugal strategies that my dad had taught me. I could solider on.
So, a few tips for anyone going through hell right now:
- Stick to a routine as much as possible. My partner is very much a creature of habit which helped.
- Don’t buy anything that isn’t groceries or regular purchases. Nothing of this material world will help you feel better.
- Do make dinner every night. I thought I’d dread it but I didn’t. I was glad to get into the kitchen and cook as it turned out.
- Use up leftovers. Stay frugal and focused, especially in the kitchen. This is no time for expensive and unhealthy take out. Cook like you always do.
- Write up all the niggling little projects you have been meaning to get to. Tackle them one by one. Don’t rush but don’t put anything off either.
- Make sure you have a couple of super easy, phone in meals for those days you just feel you cannot cope.
- Stay active. True, my partner had to drag me to the gym sullen and glaring in silence but in retrospect, I am glad he did. It helped me sleep at night.
- It’s ok to make it all about you for once. I was so used to checking in on friends, keeping in touch with everyone, worrying about everyone else but all that selflessness went out the window when grief came crashing in.
- Grieve how you need to grieve. There is no playbook for this. I make no apologies. I got through the first wave of it as best I could and you can too.