I have a couple of prayer cards from my father’s service in my home. One of my sisters scooped them up for me, from the wake in Maine, and mailed them to me in Texas. They have Psalm 23 printed on them. You know… “The lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”
Right there underneath his photograph and his birth and death dates. Like he’s a historical figure now. I guess in a way he is.
I also have a votive prayer candle with the same thing printed on the glass holder. My mother sent it to me in another care package. It has my father’s face, the prayer, birth, and death. It’s all there. My father, the historical figure.
I have what’s basically a small shrine on my fireplace. One of the prayer cards and the candle are sitting there, along with the sympathy cards I got from people, and a meditation tool from my mother-in-law she sent to help me cope. She told me when she sent it that I could throw any part of it away that didn’t work for me. Which was honestly really helpful. Since you don’t always act like your best self when you’re grieving. This time around, I found I wasn’t good at gratitude. Got offended at weird things.
Anyway, the second prayer card is not on the shrine. It’s in my kitchen, in a place where I see it whenever I load the dishwasher. Whenever I wash my hands — which is a lot during the pandemic. I also see my father’s face on the fireplace shrine whenever I sit down on the couch to watch TV, work, relax.
This means I see my father’s face a lot. And every time I do, I remember he’s gone.
Over and over and over again, something in my brain goes, “That’s your father. Your father is dead.”
This was very difficult at first. I thought about putting away the candle and the two prayer cards for exactly this reason. But I also wanted to honor him. To remember him.
And I didn’t want to disrespect all the effort that others had made in getting those mementos to me. So I left them out.
Even though it hurt. Every time I looked at them. Which was often.
The Only Way Around the Pain Is Through It
But here’s the bright side: It’s getting easier to look at them. I feel less pain whenever I look at my father’s photograph. I am less likely to become physically upset. To cry or feel nauseated or have my heart race or my chest ache.
There’s still discomfort there, because I’m being reminded of what I’ve lost. Of an unpleasant reality that would be easier to forget if it wasn’t always right there in my face.
But I’m glad for the reminder, as painful as it has been. And I’m glad that I didn’t cringe away from the pain. I’m glad I didn’t hide the photographs.
I’m glad I could meet the truth of the moment, even though it was painful. And I’m being rewarded for that perseverance.
Because the only way around the pain is through it. All other shortcuts might look attractive in the short term but lead you where you really don’t want to end up.