A Becoming Me Without You Blog
By Patti Smith
This month’s contributor to Becoming Me, Without You is Patti Smith. We’ve had widows, widowers, mothers, and now a child to share a grief experience. Each contributor has had similar, yet different processings of “Becoming Me” without a loved one. But I think I’m accurate in saying for all the contributors: Grief is the price of love.
Patti came into my life in a most unexpected but very pleasant way: Sonya, Diana, and I were working on writing Listen In when Patti, who had attended a School of Spiritual Direction, emailed and said that she was prompted to write and offer her editorial skills for anything we needed. We moved from that offer to the acknowledgments for Listen In, where we wrote, “Patti Smith, editor. It’s been a many-year journey! Thank you for really taking us across the finish line.”
Patti is a wife, mother, grandmother, a licensed professional counselor with a private practice in Athens, GA, and my very good friend. (The last three listed since editing Listen In.) I knew how extremely close Patti was with her daddy and asked her to tell me when she was ready to write about her grief experience and give a title. She said, “Now” for two reasons: her daddy’s 1st birthday with Jesus and the 3rd anniversary of Larry’s homegoing (two very influential men in her life).
Becoming Me, Without Larry,
Seven months ago, a flag-draped coffin was lowered into the ground, taking the body of my Daddy, who had always been my earthly protector. As taps played, I said a silent goodbye to my anchor. My heart was broken into so many pieces that I doubted I would ever truly feel fully alive again.
But for Abba, I will not.
Daddy died on July 22, 2023 after battling a rare bone marrow disorder. He was 91. During the last months of his life, I spent as much time as I could with him and Mom. We talked, laughed, and reminisced. I did projects around the house that he could no longer do. We binge watched old westerns, which I still cannot watch. At one point, tiny cracks in my armored heart appeared. Maybe he wouldn’t beat this. My last conversation with him was on the Wednesday before the Saturday he died. I had planned to go up on Saturday for a normal weekend visit, and said: “I will see you soon.” His reply that day was: “I hope not too soon,” and the cracks in my heart got larger. He knew. I never heard his voice again.
For the first several months after his death, I functioned on autopilot. I did what was needed and expected from me, but many days I could not function, so I didn’t. As a mental health counselor, I am skilled at compartmentalizing, so I was able to meet people in my office, teach classes and help my private practice get off the ground, and say I was “fine” without missing a step and no one the wiser. My authentic self and my duty self were easily separated. Days of feeling truly happy were rare. Exhaustion, the kind you cannot sleep away, was my constant companion. My internal music was gone, and external music tended to make me angry, reminding me of loss.
God provided trusted friends who invited me to go off autopilot, affording healing tears from the core of my heart. Soft healing prayers and scriptures were offered, and “I am fine” was not accepted. One friend has studied scripture with me every day via text for several months, retraining my mind toward spiritual discipline. I knew very early in my grief process that I had to connect deeply with Abba, or I would not survive emotionally or spiritually. I trusted Jesus to be my Savior at the age of 5, but this was going to have to be a whole new level of connection.
God knew I would need more tangible proof of His love. Three months after the funeral, I flew to Washington State to visit my daughter. My husband would follow me several days later, but I deliberately flew out by myself, needing time alone with God and creation. Driving across Washington from Seattle, I drank in God’s love. Viewing majestic pines, rock formations that made me gasp, and a turquoise river that took my breath, God whispered to my broken heart: “I am here; I have you.” Trail rides into the mountains further confirmed, “I love you.” The cracks in my heart began to mend.
My daddy taught me so many things: to walk, ride a bike, jump in waves, and to love Jesus. He was laughter, deep conversations, adventures, crazy ideas, wisdom, advice, my confidant, my anchor. He was someone I could always trust. Toward the end of his journey, he said: “My ending is my new beginning.” I didn’t know how to have a new beginning at his ending, and it is still a painful process.
But for Abba….
I would have despaired unless I had believed I would see the goodness of God in the land of the living (Psalm 27:13-14). When my heart checks out, and my “duty self” must take over, I know I am loved and held by Abba. He promised me in His Word He would be close to the brokenhearted and save me when I am crushed in spirit. There were times that I did not think I would ever feel happy again, ever feel joy or peace again. There are many times even now, seven months later, I don’t.
But I am held by my Abba.